Palo Alto: Movie Review

It’s been nearly over a month since my last movie review, which is pretty strange considering I watch a new movie almost every other day. (So expect a surge in movie reviews next month!)

After sitting through 100 minutes of sometimes cringe worthy teen angst I was left feeling a little nostalgic for my own teen years.

Written and directed by Gia Coppola, Palo Alto featured a few of Hollywood’s staple teen (ish) actors Emma Roberts and Nat Wolff alongside newcomers Jack Kilmer and Zoe Levin.  Based on James Franco’s short story collection of the same name, the film centers on the lives of four teens: Teddy, Fred, April and Emily.

All four struggle with angst and adversity that is largely of their own design.

Teddy struggles with community service after a DUI, laying boundaries within his friendship with manic and unpredictable best friend, Fred, and assessing his feelings for April. April must deal with the emotional turmoil of carrying on an illicit affair with her soccer coach (played by the charismatic, but creepy James Franco), while Emily seeks validation and love through meaningless and degrading sexual encounters.

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In all honesty, I found Palo Alto very frustrating at times.

The plot was incredibly drowsy and I found the characters to be equally as over wrought as they were flat. They’re all just pensively staring out of car windows, smoking and drinking themselves into oblivion.

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I was impressed by the stunning visuals but disappointed at the lack of resolution and character development. Coppola did an amazing job creating the muted, sleepy vibe of the affluent Palo Alto neighborhood but didn’t really pull the characters to life outside of their surroundings. The performances of Roberts, Kilmer, Wolff and Levin were actually pretty great but seemed wasted on a plot that just never really went anywhere.

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PA1I had a hard time mustering any sympathy for the rich and largely passionless characters that Palo Alto offered me. I read some reviews for the film before watching it and it was often characterized as one of the most  ‘honest, and relevant portraits of adolescence in ages,’ to which I laughed pretty heartily post-watch. This film describes such a specific and largely unrepresentative sect of the adolescent population. Palo Alto is yet another moody flick about aimless, wealthy, white, heterosexual teens self-medicating to cope with their largely self-inflicted angst, and to be quite honest, I was not here for it.

In so many ways, high school is a ‘choose your own adventure.’ It takes work, like everything else, but if you are determined or unwilling to stop hanging out with people who are miserable, you will stay miserable. If you continue to put yourself in situations where you are liable to make bad decisions, the chances of you doing so increase tenfold.

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After the final credits rolled, I spent some time reflecting on my own adolescence. Often we are so caught up in the angst and drama (both perceived and actual) that we forget about the agency we have in most parts of our lives. I know I did. In high school I always felt so unfulfilled, like I had no control over anything and that was how my life was going to be forever. But that wasn’t the case then, and it definitely isn’t nowpa 2

Films like Palo Alto play to the joyless melodrama of adolescence without taking a look at the beauty and wonder locked into seemingly inconsequential moments, which I think does portrayals of teen life a major disservice.

Overall, I thought the film was relateively enjoyable but definitely would have preferred more well-realized portrayals of the lead teens.

So there it is folks,

I’m giving this film a 3/5 stars.

If you have seen the movie, let me know what you thought about it!

Until next time!

R.S. Taylor

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