Saturday, May 31, 2014

REVIEW: Palo Alto

Palo Alto

Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer


May 9, 2014 (NY/LA)
May 16, 2014 (EXPANSION)

Gia Coppola

Tribeca Film

1 hour 35 minutes



There's a line that Nat Wolff says at the beginning of "Palo Alto" that pretty much summarizes high school in a nutshell.  Nat's character Fred asks Teddy, played by newcomer Jack Kilmer, what he'd want to be if he could travel back in time to the Middle Ages.  Naturally, Teddy says he wants to be a king.  Fred, being the crazy and committed person he is, says "No, you can't.  You wouldn't be the king, you'd be the peasant probably."  While the quote doesn't seem like much, it's sort of a metaphorical way of saying to teenagers that nobody is the so-called "king" of high school, because in the end we all become peasants in the kingdom that is Planet Earth.  The film, like the world itself, doesn't have a typical beginning, middle, and end.  This film instead is presented in a series of inter-spliced vignettes about people, more specifically high school students, during a brief time in their high school careers.

The Coppola family must have some type of gene in their blood that makes them love film, because it seems that all of them are in the movie business.  Luckily, the Coppola family is a talented one at making movies, so it's always welcoming when a new member of their family continues their long-standing trend of filmmaking.  First time director/screenwriter Gia Coppola takes these stories written by James Franco and not only expands on them, but manages to show sides of high school life that many are dealing with.  Whether a character is wondering if his best friend is the best role model, if having a relationship with her teacher is a smart thing, or if a character wants to be known as a "slut," Coppola manages to show it all here, and even makes it feel like we've known these characters for more than 90+ minutes.

I also admire how much the three lead teen actors put into their performances.  Emma Roberts truly shows how "Unfabulous" (look up the reference if you don't get it) high school life is.  Not only for those wondering about their future, but also to those who are attracted to their teacher, or teachers.  Jack Kilmer, son of Val, gives a quiet, subtle, and yet powerful performance, which is really saying something since this is his acting debut in movies.  And as for Nat Wolff, well, he is insane in this film.  His character is mean spirited, crazy-as-hell, and chews up the screen every time he's on it.  Every performance in this movie is entertaining, but it's these three that shine the brightest out of the large ensemble cast.

This isn't a movie I'd go back and watch immediately, but it is something I would be interested in revisiting in the future.  What I like about movies like this is that they take you into a realistic world with characters you might actually know in real life.  The kids in this movie party, fantasize over teachers, and ponder what life's going to be like after graduation.  Of course the language and drinking might be a little exaggerated, but the purpose of that is to show the presence of these adult things from the eyes of a teenager.  The pacing might have been off at times and some stories might not have been fully resolved, but that didn't take away from my fascination with this movie.  "Palo Alto," regardless of your age, is an important high school film to see that is elevated by Gia Coppola's great script and direction, as well as some incredible performances from its three lead teen stars.  It's no "Perks of Being A Wallflower," but it is still something I could see many teenagers and college kids getting in to and connecting with, especially those of this generation.


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