Response Journal: Palo Alto (2014)

Please, think of the children.

The niece of Sophia and granddaughter of Francis Ford, Gia Coppola made her auspicious, albeit nepotistic, directorial debut with the warmhearted Palo Alto. Adapted from an anthology written by costar James Franco, this teens-in-their-habitat drama follows would-be puppy lovers (Emma Roberts and Jack Kilmer) between hookups and smoke-outs as they negotiate their adolescent listlessness. While the former falls prey to her babysitter-fetishist coach (Franco), the latter dabbles in petty delinquency with his nutty accomplice (Nat Wolff). Coppola’s plotting drifts aimlessly like leaves in autumn, but since the subject is high school ennui, one can appreciate the felicitously moody form. (I now see why likeminded movies are so often set over a 24-hour period: it gives temporal shape to a shapeless existence). Cast members Roberts, who with each movie, for better or worse, passes for a miniature Anne Hathaway; Kilmer, who elicits the wayward hero of The 400 Blows; and Zoe Levin, as an alienated nymphet, rectify many narrative shortcomings as well. I admit the teenage wasteland was plumbed more astutely when aunt Sophia directed The Virgin Suicides years ago. By story’s end, however, as these kids went on their respective paths toward salvation and destruction, I worried dearly for them. Palo Alto comes from a place of tremendous empathy.

Music by Devonte Hynes. Cinematography by Autumn Durald.

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