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Review: Palo Alto 

Ken Korman on Gia Coppola’s directing debut, a drama about teenagers

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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 Coppola (who makes an off-screen cameo 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 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 in 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 these types of roles. Their muddled responses to casually predatory adults (such as Franco's smooth-talking girls' soccer coach Mr. B) and their own weed–smoking 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.


Film Details

Palo Alto
Rated R · 97 minutes · 2014
Director: Gia Coppola
Producer: Sebastian Pardo, Adriana Rotaru, Miles Levy and Vince Jolivette
Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Nat Wolff, Zoe Levin, Claudia Levy, Olivia Crocicchia, Jack Kilmer, Chris Messina, Micah Nelson, Andrew Lutheran, Bo Mitchell, Val Kilmer, Keegan Allen, Don Novello, Jacqui Getty and Bailey Coppola

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