It seems the life of a suburban teenager hasn’t changed much in recent decades, at least according to writer-director Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto. A third-generation filmmaker — 27-year-old granddaughter of Francis (who makes an off-screen cameo here by providing the voice of a juvenile judge) and niece of Sofia — Gia Coppola captures all the familiar aimlessness and intensity of teenage life with her first feature film. She adapted the Palo Alto screenplay from the book Palo Alto Stories at the request of author James Franco (who also appears in the film). The results are impressionistic and driven by the kind of finely drawn characters seldom seen in teen-centered films.
Apart from Emma Roberts, who stars as high school good-girl April and comes across with her most affecting performance yet, the ensemble cast consists mostly of actual teenagers who talk and dress like the real thing — not the mid-20s professional-actor types so often cast in roles like these. Their muddled responses to casually predatory adults (such as Franco’s smooth-talking girls’ soccer coach Mr. B) or their own weed-baked parents (Palo Alto is set in the medical marijuana-infused present) consistently ring true. Those in need of an epic story should look elsewhere, but there’s a subtlety of feeling in Palo Alto that gives it the air of a promising debut.
Palo Alto begins an exclusive run today, May 30, at Zeitgeist Movies. More info here.