The other night my best friend and I decided to watch a film, after perusing the lists of IMDB, oohing and aahing at various titles, we came across the gem of a film ‘Palo Alto’. I knew very little about it, only that Gia Coppola’s debut film was inspired by a collection of short stories written by James Franco (who, being the multi-talented individual that he is, stars in the movie as a soccer coach.) and that Emma Roberts also starred.
I would first like to start by stating, as I sat crunching M&M’s at five AM, I had expected a somewhat clichéd film. Perhaps a glimpse into the lives of a stereotypically lost generation, delving into drug-fuelled house party bonanzas, conflicted sexualities and identity crisis’ galore. It’s been done many times before, forget not that I’ve grown up in the UK, witnessing the explosion of indie teen drama films as a result of raunchy Channel Four series ‘Skins’. Unfortunately in many circumstances, films exploring the trials of the young are bogged down with a tedious lack of originality and cringeworthy dialogue. Most of the time, I watch with gritted teeth as some thirty-year old supposedly passing as a high school student stands sullen at a locker, trying desperately to work wonders with a tired script. Scarcely does one discover a truly innovative film that breaks through the superficial, glossed over image of teen life with a refreshing perspective, Diablo Cody’s ‘Juno’ being one of them.
Quelle surprise- Palo Alto is another one. The first film in a long time to have both proven my naïve expectations wrong and to have resonated with me beyond the realms of running time. Exploring desire, loneliness and rebellion, the movie is a cool and detached biopsy of the teenage world which avoids the annoying formula adhered to by most others of the same genre.
“Teddy, if you were in the olden times, what would you do?” asks Fred (Nat Woolf), character one of the stoner duo, hot-boxing in an abandoned car park. An impressive first line and the slap bang of reality. Finally! At long last, some realistic portrayal of what stoned guys really sound like.
We are introduced to April (Emma Roberts), the average student sneaking in a cig between putting up appearances as a footballer for the school team and a babysitter for the much drooled after Mr B (James Franco). Interested in Ted (character two of the stoner duo) the two share a fondness that leads nicely into a will-they/won’t they sub-plot, scattered in between a teacher-student relationship and a drunken fondle with notorious ‘slut’ Emily (Zoe Levin) in the bathroom at a house party.
I was mesmerised by the impressive performance of Jack Wilmer, who portrays tortured artistic soul Ted. Bored, angsty and given the ultimatum to turn his life around or else face the consequences, he is bound to probation and reconsiders his direction following a drunken mistake. Wilmer brings an innocence to the role, his baby face and subtle facial expressions betraying the emotions of a shy guy.
There’s a realistic and relatable feel to the sometimes haunting Palo Alto- some of the most intimate shots of the movie see characters framed against the backdrops of their habitats, simply being. Ted sits in his grungy bedroom, hair tousled with the company of only himself, seemingly hypnotised by the melody of the electric guitar he nurses in his hands. April jumps on her bed and has pretend conversations with the girls from school before suddenly reclining to her bed and solemnly scanning over photos.
One of my favourite scenes of the movie is a brief exchange between Teddy and April against the glow of an outdoor fire, “You just don’t care about anything.” says Teddy, to which April responds, “I wish I didn’t care about anything. But I do care. I care about everything too much.”. A line which says a lot about the deception of appearances, incidentally another theme of interest throughout as the characters are drawn out of their shells and explored, fragile and under the microscope.
Palo Alto is an engaging exception to the coming-of-age genre that has been littered for so long with generic attempts, I can’t wait to see more of Coppola’s work!
International trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7Q3oeHsIj0