Monday 9 February 2015

DVD Review: Palo Alto

Year: 2013 (U.K DVD release 2015)
Director: Gia Coppola
Screenplay: Gia Coppola
Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff

Synopsis is here:

If Palo Alto was the first film of disaffected youth of its kind, then there’s a good bet that guys like me would be spinning the hype machine at full tilt. It’s lounging, hazy transitions and navel gazing soundtrack are combined with crisp, cool compositions. The performances from the film's leads are naturalistic and the film as a whole holds a competence, that we wish all films we watch would all.
Despite this, Palo Alto is not unique and this fact really hurts it, when watched in contrast to features such as similar fare such as Alpha Dog (2007), Perks of a Wallflower (2012) or even Spring Breakers (2013), the film pales in comparison. Gia Coppola’s film, especially suffers when compared to grander feats, such as The Virgin Suicides (1999), directed by her Aunt Sophia or Rumble Fish (1984) by Granddaddy Francis Ford. The film shows she’s learned more than a few things from her kin, but has not yet obtained that clarity of vision that comes with others in her family.

Palo Alto isn’t bad. This collection of vignettes, based loosely on James Franco’s book, which meander around tales of casual sex, boozing and angst, is high on detail. Intimate moments are thoughtlessly mentioned during games of “I have never”. Uncomfortable announcements of virginity are made in front of the opposite sex by acquaintances. An act of oral sex in a parent’s bedroom sharply cuts to one participant gargling with mouthwash. Such drolly noted elements are well highlighted by Coppola which capture the looseness of these teens and the hang ups they hold.  

The neatly caught moments are small and the film holds less feeling than a decent episode of One Tree Hill. Films such as The Way Way Back (2013), The Spectacular Now (2013), and The Kings of Summer (2013) have performances equally as affecting. Meanwhile the likes of The Duplass Brothers, Joe Swansberg and the mumble core movement stripped back the aesthetic so much, in order to capture the rawness that inhabit their youthful (although usually slightly older) protagonists. The Mumblecore movement also brought more naturalistic, improvisational performances to the table. On the other end of the spectrum, Gia isn’t aiming for the dirt under the nails view of the like of Larry Clark, whose scuzzy debut; Kids (1995) held a similar wandering narrative, but still manages to connect with audiences 20 years on.

Palo Alto’s pastel pretty imagery and high school angst are relatively entertaining and the young cast handles themselves well against the Californian backdrop and high class cameos who flutter into scenes. However, it doesn’t deliver any new perspectives in the coming of age sub-genre which would place it into the upper echelons. Gia’s film may find its way into the hands of a hard-core group of followers who will find something in its scenes to praise. Yet after watching Sophia’s sly comment on alienated youth and materialistic values (2013’s The Bling Ring), it looks like Gia, while heading in the right direction, needs to take bigger steps.