REVIEW: Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto” depicts dramatic, dark side of suburban adolescene


Gia Coppola’s directoral debut, “Palo Alto,” an adaptation of James Franco’s short stories by the same name, is in theaters now

Niki King Fredel, Staff Writer

If being a teenager is marked by drama and exaggeration, the movie “Palo Alto”depicts it well.

“Palo Alto”is directed by Gia Coppola and based on short stories by actor James Franco, who graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1996.

Starring James Franco and Emma Roberts, “Palo Alto” depicts the darker sides of teen life: Sex, drugs, friendship, and anxiety about the future. The film resembles a modern adaptation of teen cult movies like “Dazed and Confused,” The Breakfast Club,” Pretty in Pink,”and “Heathers”.The characters have individual quirks and characteristics, yet each fits a stereotype to which other students could relate.

Emma Roberts plays April, a good girl who gets mixed up in unsavory situations and begins a relationship with her soccer coach, who seems to be in his 30s. April is quirky and different, careful not to align herself with her contemporaries.

Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is a sad and artistic stonerboy, a modern Kurt Cobain. He sports ripped jeans, gets into drunk driving accidents, and defaces public property.He and April have sexual tension, but this is complicated by their other relationships.

Teddy’s best friend, Fred, played by Nat Wolff, is cocky and aggressive. He begins a relationship with Emily, portrayed by Zoe Levin, that takes some turns for the worse. Emily is a girl known for her promiscuity, but what she really wants is Fred’s attention.

The lives and struggles of these four characters create dramatic situations that explore the typical teen relationships between parents, friends, and romantic interests.

Coppola leaves room for the viewer to interpret the story as his or her own, one of the most important jobs of the director. We, as the audience, are given room to superimpose the film onto our own adolescent awkwardness and confusion. Director Coppola also echoes the overexposed visual aspects that appear in movies directed by her aunt, Sofia Coppola, including “Somewhere,Lost in Translation,”and “The Virgin Suicides.”Gia Coppola draws attention to the fading motifs of childhood: Dying plants, story books, stuffed animals.

The movie also features an exceptional soundtrack. The music adds to the mystical vibe of the transition from child to adult in a privileged Silicon Valley town. It is scored by Devonté Hynes of the indie band Blood Orange. Hynes includes some of his band’s own songs like “Champagne Coast” and “You’re Not Good Enough” along with original songs he wrote for the film. Also featured are Mac DeMarco’s “Ode to Viceroy,” Coconut Record’s “Is This Sound Okay?” and a handful of Robert Schwartzman songs.

“Palo Alto” is an over-exaggerated yet honest portrait of the everyday struggles of the privileged and confused. As Gia Coppola’s first feature film, this movie is a perfect mix of good acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and adaptation.

“Palo Alto” is in theaters now. Visit for more information.