Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

National news

May 8, 2014

Review: Another Coppola debuts with 'Palo Alto'

The Coppola family has given us Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Cage, Sofia Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Talia Shire and some very good wine.

Gia Coppola, 27, the granddaughter of Francis and niece of Sofia, is the latest Coppola to enter the family business. "Palo Alto" is her debut, an adaptation of James Franco's book of short stories about disaffected California youth.

From "The Outsiders" to "The Virgin Suicides," teenage wastelands have been a Coppola specialty, whereas Schwartzman presented a more idiosyncratic portrait of teen angst in the great "Rushmore."

In "Palo Alto," Gia very much takes after the soft aesthetic of Sofia ("The Bling Ring," ''Somewhere") in presenting a cluster of direction-less California teenagers backed by a mellow, synthesizer-heavy score. "Palo Alto" is rife with the stylistic clichés established by Gia's aunt and directors like Gus Van Sant.

But for a first film, "Palo Alto" shows promise in its character-first storytelling and its young filmmaker's evident ease with actors. Coppola doesn't force anything on her characters, instead capturing the unthinking momentariness of youth.

The film follows four high-schoolers largely outside of school walls. The settings of "Palo Alto" (which oddly contains nothing to contextualize it as the wealthy tech capital of its title) are house parties, bedrooms and soccer fields.

Emma Roberts stars as April, a gawky but pretty young girl. Though she's a type — a virgin, the "good girl" — she doesn't come off that way. Roberts, who has often played bigger, more theatrical characters, has never been better. As April, she shows a shy vulnerability, and the gentle timidity of the performance echoes through the film.

She's drawn to the blond-haired, mop-headed stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer, whose father, Val, makes a cameo as April's father), but begins an illicit affair with her inappropriately older soccer coach (Franco), a lecherous single father. Teddy pals around with his buddy, Fred (Nat Wolff), a joker and agitator — the kind of kid who tries terribly hard to be erratic and unpredictable. He's fooling around with the promiscuous Emily (Zoe Levin).

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