Palo Alto
dir-scr Gia Coppola
prd Vince Jolivette, Miles Levy, Sebastian Pardo, Adriana Rotaru
with Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, James Franco, Zoe Levin, Claudia Levy, Olivia Crocicchia, Val Kilmer, Chris Messina, Colleen Camp, Don Novello, Talia Shire
release US 9.May.14, UK 3.Oct.14
13/US Tribeca 1h40
Palo Alto
Crossing the line: Franco and Roberts

kilmer wolff messina
east end film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Palo Alto Based the a collection of short stories by James Franco, the filmmaking debut of yet another Coppola (Francis' granddaughter) is a bracingly honest exploration of adolescence. With vivid characters and realistic situations, the film pokes around edges of high school life most people would prefer to ignore. It also gets deep under the skin.

In a suburban Northern California high school, April (Roberts) is worried that she's the last virgin in her class. She has a crush on the shy Teddy (Kilmer), and he also secretly likes her, but his boisterous best pal Fred (Wolff) scares most girls away, apart from the designated class slut Emily (Levin). Through a series of drunken, stoned-out parties, these teens and their friends swirl around each other testing the boundaries. Then while babysitting for her soccer coach (Franco), April is both shocked and thrilled when he makes a move on her.

Coppola shoots and edits this with elegant skill reminiscent of her aunt Sofia's debut The Virgin Suicides (1999). Fiercely internalised, the film rarely leaves the heightened perspective of its three central characters, so everything that happens is packed with possibilities and also feels like the end of the world. For example, when a stoned Teddy crashes his car, he's resigned to the worst but gets a second chance and discovers he doesn't mind community service that much.

The actors all deliver performances that fit into this loose, artful tone that hones in on intense emotions and discovery. Roberts conveys April's journey mainly through her eyes, which are wry and observant with only flickers of the dark feelings underneath. It's a delicate balancing act that reveals the character with uncanny transparency. In his first film role, Kilmer (son of Val) is utterly magnetic, giving Teddy a fiery charisma that's almost obscured by his laconic physicality: an outward attempt to throw everyone off his scent.

In other words, these teens are far more realistic than the usual movie characters. They're fascinated by things they don't quite understand, including inebriation and sex, and aren't afraid to test the waters of rule-breaking. They're also not bad kids, and while they sometimes dance with danger they're likely to emerge stronger as a result. This might not be the message most parents would like to pass on to their children, but it definitely needs to be said. Especially by a new filmmaker as gifted as this one.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs 21.Jul.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall