Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer
Directed by: Gia Coppola (debut)
Written by: Gia Coppola (debut)
It doesn’t hurt in Hollywood when your last name is as recognizable as Coppola. As the most recent of the Coppola clan to add her name into the family’s filmmaking legacy, Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Oscar-winning director/writer/producer Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather” series) and niece of Oscar-nominated director Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), tries her hand at this moviemaking stuff in “Palo Alto,” a coming-of-age, angst-ridden teenage drama that follows the same tired blueprint of films like the over-praised “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and the unwatchable “The Art of Getting By.” Sure, it’s far too early to tell whether the newest Coppola behind the camera has what it takes to flourish in the film industry, but it’s a rough start when you have to adapt your first screenplay from a collection of pretentious short stories by the talented albeit (in this case) overachieving author James Franco.
In “Palo Alto,” Coppola fashions together weak characters studies on teenagers having to deal with everything from drug use to promiscuous sex to predatory adults. Emma Roberts (niece of Julia Roberts), who has starred in films similar to this like the aforementioned “Art of Getting By” and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” plays April, a shy high school girl who has a crush on the equally introverted Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), who hangs out with his self-destructive friend Fred (Nat Wolff). Franco joins the cast as Mr. B, the high school soccer coach who seduces April when she comes to his house to babysit his son.
Other issues come into play throughout the film that attempt to reveal just how unpleasant kids have it these days, but the pity party Coppola throws for each of her characters is far too blatant to dismiss. Not much transpires from the relationships these characters create with one another and even the most important ones to the story (like Teddy and Fred’s friendship) are not fleshed out well enough to understand why these two boys would even acknowledge each other in the hallway much less spend all their free time together.
Coppola, like her famous auntie, has a knack for the toned-down narrative and low-spirited mood you would find in Aunt Sofia’s past films like “The Virgin Suicides” and “Somewhere.” Hopefully, the attention to that kind of stylistic detail by Coppola can be better served in future films where her characters are free to do more than just pout.