Palo Alto

The Fury of The Ellipsis


Starring: Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

When examining the jacket of Palo Alto, one might think it’s a Hollywood vanity project. Inspired by a book written by an empirically pleasing A-lister, directed by a member of Coppola clan, and starring the brood of Tinseltown’s very own, Palo Alto seems like an exercise in banal narcissism – but it’s not. Gia Coppola – Francis’ granddaughter – is behind the sun-siphoned exploration of sneaker rapping teenagers. For her debut, the twenty-seven-year-old director decided to loosely adapt Palo Alto, a collection of short stories penned by actor James Franco. Tapping into the plumes of smoke and chemical malaise that is the constant ebb of teenage life, Coppola’s directorial debut is an achingly poignant look at hormonal dystopia.

Coppola’s film revolves around a handful of kids, living in Palo Alto, that struggle with their inability to articulate their emotions. Guttural howls and slimline morality quake at parties. Prosaic sleeve tugging turns into carnal abandon, and alcohol seems to be the only lighthouse. Anna (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer) are good kids, whom are unable to whittle their feelings into shapes. The two bounce around, often times solemnly, trying to decide what sort of sundial they should use. Other kids, like Teddy’s vehement friend Fred (Nat Wolff), channel their uncertainties into the characteristics of a buzz saw. Throughout Palo Alto’s run time, the morose confusion becomes tangible. Cars become aimed bullets, pools become debased carnival games, and the id’s most ravenous desires spread their wings. Coppola, only twenty-seven, is old enough to step back, decisively, and see the warpaint of youth, while also being young enough to comprehend it without total indictment.

Not entirely following the same fingerprint smudged compass of Larry Clark’s Kids, Palo Alto’s modernity nets the post-aughts climate of instant gratification and barbed wickedness that its predecessors had no way of capturing. The sad murmurs and ethereal whispers glaze the film in a starry abandon. Here, the protagonist is aimless confusion. Palo Alto channels the incendiary nothingness of being a teenager. A place where everyone resembles Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, only dressed in a sweater that has excessively long sleeves. Smoking. Texting. Baying at the moon. Mad hatters with the inability to process emotion. Gia Coppola’s film has the gears of a Gus Van Sant film, but a heart all its own. Not all of the film’s snippets work, but when they do, you remember the cold rush of night air and the wretched pang of what it was like to be fettered to this kind of farcical carnage.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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