Review: 'Palo Alto', Starring Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, and James Franco

Gia Coppola comes from a family of directors, actors, and screenwriters. So, it's really not surprising that she's found her way to it as well. She already has her own unique style, some beautiful facial shots, and a way of telling her story that's solely her own. It's a shame, however, to say that the source material for Palo Alto, based on the short stories written by James Franco (who knew, right?) don't help her at all. The film lacks any substance, its characters making teenagers and their problems look bland and shallow because there's no in-depth look at any of them and why they act the way they do. It's mottled with too much emoting and for no good reason. The result is a lackluster and slow-going film where its stories don't pan out well.

April (Emma Roberts) is a "good girl." Or rather, she's the stereotypical definition of a good girl (a vague terminology which is thrown around far too often to describe quieter, naive-seeming, and less outrageous girls). She's on the soccer team, gets good grades (for the most part), and babysits for her coach Mr. B (James Franco) on the weekends. She's
confused about her affection for Mr. B, his supposed love for her, and college among other things. 

Teddy (Jack Kilmer) likes April. Wading through his life of drugs, getting drunk, and hanging out with his reckless and hanging-by-the-edge friend Fred (Nat Wolff), Teddy is forced to do community service after a hit-and-run, or end up in juvenile hall. He navigates strange encounters with Fred's dad, watching April from a distance without any real interaction, painting class, and parties. 

Other than some of the nice shots in this movie, Palo Alto doesn't really have much to offer by way of intriguing plot or characters. It takes its time unfolding the story, but you realize very quickly that there isn't much story to tell. The only character you truly ever feel some kind of sympathy toward is Emma Roberts's character. This is because her's is the more fleshed out storyline. You can sense her confusion and loneliness in the midst of it all because we see what's happening to her. With the other two male leads, Kilmer and Wolff, there isn't a drawing point for either of them. 

The teens in the film are all shallow and have no substantial reasons for doing the things that they do. It's almost like an insult to the age group. The '90s had such good stories about teens and brought them to life in a way the 21st century films about teens have seemed to destroy. There's always a lot of partying, drinking, sex, and smoking involved, but these things don't bring us closer to seeing them and their vulnerabilities in a way that's relatable. 

The two main stories in the film don't even feel like they fit together. April has her own problems, Teddy has his (if you can call them that), and by the time the end comes around we're supposed to feel like they've both reached a place, when they really haven't. Most scenes seem to drag on because we're following these characters into a dead end, the film taking itself too seriously and not providing us with any interesting and three-dimensional characters.

James Franco appears in the film, and the lack of real storytelling will be credited to him since he wrote the original short stories. He's been known to most definitely make some interesting artistic and career choices, and Palo Alto certainly falls into one of the more awkward and boring things he's done. Gia Coppola tries to breathe life into a movie that ultimately finds itself falling into the trap of angst-ridden teens with no sense of heart and lacking any substance for audiences to care about.