Palo Alto

palo alto emma roberts james franco

Delicate business is being transacted in Gia Coppola's gravely lovely interpretation of a collection of deeply-felt short stories by James Franco. Despite the cool vibe – she's the 27-year-old granddaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sofia making her feature directing debut; he's 36 and, well, everywhere – Palo Alto doesn't hit you over the head with hipness. It sidles up to you, gets whispery close, then sidles away again, leaving behind an enveloping vapor that lingers for a sweet long time. Plot seems to the last thing on Coppola's mind. She has a setting, the privileged enclave of Palo Alto, Calif. And she has two teens, April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer), high-school seniors who can barely talk to each other, much less hook up. Coppola, working with gifted cinematographer Autumn Cheyenne Durald, gives the film a dreamlike quality that's eons away from standard coming-of-age clichés. Sure, alcohol, drugs and sex are as common as text-messaging in Palo Alto, but the awkwardness of growing up crosses every boundary. For dramatic catalysts, Coppola offers volatile Fred (Nat Wolff, a true find and a star in the making), Teddy's bad-boy bestie, Emily (the superb Zoe Levin), for whom blowjobs are ideal ice-breakers, and Mr. B (Franco) a much-older soccer coach whose interest in April is decidedly creepy. April has a spacey mother, played by Coppola's mom Jacqui Getty, and a weed-puffing stepfather, played Val Kilmer, Jack's dad, but basically the teens of Palo Alto are working out their own game plans for an uncertain future. Coppola makes us care, capturing the fever and fleetingness of first love in a way that marks a born filmmaker. Coppola's bullshit detector is in full working order. It helps that Roberts and Kilmer are heartbreakers with a gift for registering feeling without overselling it. They define the appeal of Palo Alto, a hypnotic movie of harsh truth and healing compassion. It sticks with you.