The Coppola siblings, although at separate times in their lives, have found their niche, so to speak. Roman, with Wes Anderson and Sophia, with her sorrily-paced pictures. Now Gia, Sophia’s niece, has taken her stab at film with her debut picture, Palo Alto, based on James Franco’s collection of short stories published in 2010, Palo Alto: Stories.
“Would you rather be gay or a girl?” asks Ted, a seemingly sleazy, confused teenager played by kid-star Nat Wolff. The eerily simple question and tone exhibits what intricate creatures developing adults are. April, the leading character portrayed by Emma Roberts (finally in a role I wasn’t wishing didn’t exist), a precocious sixteen-year-old whose main compulsions lie heavily on looking at her phone, thinking about Mr. B (James Franco): her much older soccer coach. The film opens the way you’d expect any coming-of-age to open. Three privileged teenage girls from Palo Alto, California on a soccer field stretching while talking about the few sexual experiences they have had, meandering towards how they would imagine the coach’s expression to be while he ejaculates as he repeatedly blows on his little silver whistle from afar.
Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer (who is also in the film for a scene or two), plays the most interesting character, Teddy. Teddy seems quiet as he aimlessly wanders through the parties and tomfoolery, appearing as if he just wants it all to pass. Jack seemed like the lifeline of the film, appearing to be the most natural in front of the camera and it wouldn’t hurt seeing him in bigger roles. Teddy and April, before anything with Mr. B, like one another. They don’t say it, but the looks on their faces, the emotion conducted from the chemistry of their scenes together and their actions all point towards the obvious conclusion without being entirely expositional or saccharine.
Gia Coppola shows us through her wonderful lens a mundane spectacle without it necessarily boring the viewer and it still felt as if an hour and forty minutes wasn’t enough, because most of the stories still seemed a little underdeveloped. Emily (Zoe Levin) in the same grade as all the other characters had an interesting story that could have been further explored. She is a lonely, promiscuous girl who seeks validation through the sexual acts she commits with boys. She loves Fred and does things for him, but *why* she ever loved Fred in the first place, who at first glance is a pompous, self-centered douchebag who never redeems himself, is a mystery. Once the film was over I asked myself so many questions. Why is this girl lonely? Why is she this way and what makes her so different from the others? Without any of this explained, I found little reason for her character to even exist and quite frankly, I don’t care about what had happened to her.
The cinematography, while at times flat, showed us the willingness Gia and cinematographer Autumn Durald had to being intimate, not only with the characters, but with each unique setting. The film’s script suffers and could have used some tightening and rewriting. Most of the characters seemed to have done the things they did to keep the ebb and flow of the story, not because there was any other reason, as if it was all one-tone and there was nothing deeper to it. Some things, as I said, were left unexplained, but maybe that’s what makes it feel quite realistic. Real life is all about loose ends.