Shy, sensitive April (Emma Roberts) is the class virgin -a popular soccer player and frequent babysitter for her single-dad coach Mr B. (James Franco). Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is an introspective artist whose best friend and sidekick Fred (Nat Wolff) is an unpredictable live wire with few filters or boundaries. While April negotiates a dangerous affair with Mr B and Teddy performs community service - secretly carrying a torch for April - Fred seduces Emily (Zoe Levin), a promisculous loner who seeks validation through sex. One high-school party bleeds into another as April and Teddy finally acknowledge their mutual affection, and Fred's escalating recklessness spirals into chaos.
Review by Louise Keller:
A moody depiction of the ever-changing, impressionable teenage years is the subject matter of Gia Coppola's film, exploring the colours, textures, pauses and events that fill complex Californian days and nights. It's an impressive debut from Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter, who has meshed actor James Franco's stories into a narrative, in which the learning curve approaching adulthood is frivolous, painful, exciting, unpredictable and often out of control. There's a freshness about the uncertainties and insecurities depicted - involving sex, love, relationships and pushing the boundaries, when rebellion is the easiest response. The film may not say anything new, but the way Coppola tells her story pricks our interest, rekindling all the sensations we recognise from those awkward years in between.
With its character-driven narrative, the action is limited; it is all about what the characters feel, think and do. Although he might be teetering on the edge of the wrong side of the tracks, Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is an endearing character, with his mop of unruly hair and sweet face. His friendship with the unruly Fred (Nat Wolff) is the biggest negative in his life. Fred is a complex being, ready to provoke and is unsure of his sexuality. Even when Teddy is turning his 150 hours of community service around, Fred manages to stomp all over the positives. April (Emma Roberts, appealing), the central female character is the virgin with stars in her eyes - and has a giant crush on her football coach (Franco Nero). The inevitable kiss changes the relationship, which then becomes coloured by doubts, insecurities and jealousies. April's persona is contrasted by that of Emily (Zoe Levin) the school tart, who is easy prey for every male in sight.
They smoke weed, party, drink too much, have drunken brawls in the pool and do all the things teenagers do to make an impression. The threads of the story are woven together nicely in an ongoing teenage twilight. Coppola handles all the elements well, although the tedious four-note music theme irritates in what is otherwise a keenly observant portrait of those unique, pivotal years.
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PALO ALTO (MA15+)
CAST: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Val Kilmer
PRODUCER: Vince Jolivette, Miles Levy, Sebastian Pardo, Adriana Rotaru
DIRECTOR: Gia Coppola
SCRIPT: Gia Coppola (James Franco, short)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Autumn Durald
EDITOR: Leo Scott
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sara Beckum Jamieson
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Vendetta Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 14, 2014