Film Review: ‘Palo Alto’

Adapted from James Franco’s novel of the same name – a reflection of the hometown ennui he managed to transcend, Palo Alto (2013) is another creative misfire from the talented multi-hyphenate. Franco’s novel is a series of loosely connected vignettes that focuses on a group of teenage high schoolers and their inter personal relationships. The film is directed by 25-year-old Gia Coppola and suffers from the internal problems of a wannabe creative unsure of what outlet to use. Coppola has admitted that she was drifting through life: “I wasn’t sure what my passion was. I never paid attention to movies until fairly recently.” How lucky she is to be the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece of Sofia Coppola.

There are reasons why very few filmmakers make films at Coppola’s age, primarily because of a lack of insight that comes from not being able to step back and compartmentalise their lives. Palo Alto appears to be striving for a sense of longing that it never encapsulates honestly. Part of its problem is the huge elephant in the room: nepotism. Coppola as mentioned before is related to Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola, but we also have actors related to Julia Roberts and Val Kilmer (Emma Roberts and Jack Kilmer), these players are solid actors but here they’re misplaced and poorly directed. The characters in the film are distant and displaced from a codified reality which results in an emptiness which is unintentional and ultimately renders every action and reaction dull.

One gets the impression that Coppola isn’t using the vacuous lives of her teenage protagonists as any kind of metaphor but rather as is, seemingly unable to grapple with her own experiences and connect them to Franco’s characters. Of course there are directors in their late twenties who have made great work: Orson Welles and Harmony Korine to name a few, yet Gia Coppola isn’t fit to be mentioned in their presence. Palo Alto is a collection of clichés, whether that be thematic, tonal or within character. We also have a representation of American Suburbia that has been mined repeatedly since the late 60s: an anti Eden with a perverted obsession with surface. The world depicted in Palo Alto is part of an anti-unique, especially when looking at its characters, which in a plotless narrative are what the film will stand on, or die because of.

Traditionally in the end credits of a film there is a “The director would like to thank…” section. Palo Alto also has one, but for anyone who stays to watch it is sickening example of Coppola gauche self obsession. She proceeds to give shout outs to every cool brand, band, actor and director that inspired her. What kind of person is inspired by a brand? One whose whole being is money and marketing. Ultimately Palo Alto is a vain example of artless style that shoots narcissism of character as a reason to be. Maybe Coppola’s next project will proceed beyond these tropes, but for now we’re left with not very much.

D.W. Mault @D_W_Mault