Gia Coppola creates a compelling teenage wasteland with “Palo Alto”

by Courtney Brown

Gia Coppola brilliantly makes her feature debut with “Palo Alto,” an independent film inspired by James Franco’s collection of short stories. “Palo Alto” is a stunning homage to adolescent desire, frustrating apathy, and realities of wasted youth.

The stellar ensemble cast of young actors features Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, and Zoe Levin, who all deliver electrifying performances. Coppola captures the unidealized nuances of growing up through various vignettes of character development. For instance, April (Roberts) is the sweet and shy class-virgin who is dealing with solidifying her independence. April’s uncertainty about entering adulthood is illustrated by an illicit affair with her sexy soccer coach, Mr. B (James Franco) and a timid romance with sensitive stoner Teddy (Kilmer). Despite adorning affection from her mother (Jacqui Getty) and step-father (Val Kilmer), April feels a lack of attention and seeks that with her soccer coach.

Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer, plays Teddy and makes his on-screen debut with “Palo Alto.” The film spotlights Teddy’s adolescent experiences, categorized by smoking pot, defacing private property, and finding beauty in an unglamorous world. This dazed and dreamlike state of mind is portrayed by Teddy and his reckless friend Fred (Wolff) as they drunk drive through dark tunnels of bleeding colors and headlights night after night. The relatability to the characters and their stories is something anyone can connect to.

Coppola does not exaggerate or preach anything. Whether it’s the kid making consistent mistakes for attention or battling inner demons, or the girl who didn’t understand her self-worth, they are all people we know. Coppola proves she has a tasteful eye by incorporating still frames of poetic images such as dying plants, childhood memorabilia and hearts carved into tree bark; all of which are ironic when mirrored against the backdrop of looming adulthood.

The soundtrack for the film features new music from Devonté Hynes of Blood Orange. It’s a piece of art in and of itself. Hynes’ airy synths and fading vocals vividly capture the emotions of each scene. “Palo Alto,” which opens in theaters May 30, is a teen movie for the ages.

These fresh creative talents have potential to go very far in the movie industry and I expect to see much more from them in the future.