I sense a spoiler, or two.
Ironically, being all grown up, I still think coming of age movies speak to me more than any other kind of stories being told on screen. Some of these teen dramas really resignate in me for weeks, months, years even (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fish Tank, The Breakfast Club), and others simply fall into the depth of all those 1000+ movies I’ve seen over the years. I have a feeling Palo Alto is one of those movies that has the potential, but might be gradually forgotten instead.
Palo Alto is adapted from James Franco’s short stories, written into a screenplay by Gia Coppola and directed by her as well. It interwines, quite well I might add, three different stories of teens and their various struggles ranging from adult attention to gay vibes from your best friend’s father. The way the movie introduces us these teenagers is actually pretty great because it never really speeds things up, it just slowly and gradually flows through these specific events. It takes its time when it needs to, those long looks and awkward conversations, but it never lingers long enough to become annoying. All of that is thanks to Gia Coppola’s fine work on Palo Alto. And I do have to admit, for a debut, it could have been a pretty great movie, if Emma Roberts would have reached the same level of professionalism.
Granted, my feelings towards Roberts could be personal, but I’ve noticed that even if I dislike the actress, I’m still capable of liking their performance (Kristen Stewart). Not the case with Roberts though. Her character, April was the center of attention in the movie, not just to James Franco’s character Mr. B, but also to Teddy (Jack Kilmer), but everything about her bothered me and I didn’t find her belivable. Franco though, man was his character creepy and weird, all too comfortable for him to be honest but I don’t mind it because I was totally convinced he was a pedophile and wasn’t that the whole point?
Speaking of convinced, Chris Messina had a small role as Mitch, Fred’s (Nat Wolff) father who comes on to Teddy – I was literally hiding my eyes because it was so bad.. which meant it was real enough for me to be disturbed. And though Jack Kilmer’s Teddy wasn’t as good as it could have been, I have to give him some praise considering it was his first role. To be honest, if you count out Roberts from the mix, I really enjoyed the characters and I even liked Nat Wolff this time, though I do tend to have mixed feelings towards him.
That being said, I do think Palo Alto at least looked nice and it had that sort of teen angst feel to it throughout. It was visually pretty and suitable for the movie, and all thanks to a lady named Autumn Durald, who did the cinematography. (I just wanted to point her out because I think we rarely see female cinematographers in the business and they deserve some love!) In comparisson to the latest teen movie I saw, Very Good Girls, Palo Alto does everything a little better. It tells a better story, it focuses on the right issues and it doesn’t feel messy nor overdone.
But like I said in the beginning, I might forget Palo Alto and it is because it doesn’t really hit you hard enough. There’s not that much pain to be felt while watching Palo Alto and pain is what lingers on for weeks, months, years. It doesn’t have to be right in your face, it could be subtle but it has to be there. For a moment, I thought I’ll get that from Emily’s character (Zoe Levin) or from Fred (Wolff) but the movie didn’t focus enough on them in order for that loneliness to resignate in me. Roberts’ April went through draumatic things and instead, she found herself with Teddy and happy within what seemed to be days. Despite of this, Palo Alto is a decent movie, a movie that comes so close to great in its every aspect but falls just a tad bit short here and there.
I feel the same way about the movie in general, but I thought Emma Roberts was actually very good. It was Wolff and Levine who I thought were lacking. Funny how that works.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m getting too old to enjoy coming of age movies anymore, but I still always give them a try.