Palo Alto | Film Review


The city of Palo Alto is a relatively small place nestled in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Not only is it the city that holds one of the premier universities in the world, Stanford, but it is the setting for a series of short stories written by James Franco, a Palo Alto native, famous for not just his writing, but also his acting (and freakishly amazing good looks). The novel is one haunting tale focusing on many different people that all go back to the same place: Palo Alto. But, I am not here to talk about the novel. I am here to talk about the film.


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Palo Alto, directed by Gia Coppola - yes, those Coppolas: Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Cage, so on - that premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2013, was released into theaters this April. I was unable to see it then because there was no way in hell my uptight lawyer parents were going to take me to go see a movie about sex and alcohol and drugs when I’m entering my freshman year of high school. Can you imagine how awkward seeing a movie like that in a theater with your parents would be? For Christ’s sake, there’s a scene where Nat Wolff’s character, Fred, narrates "Emily didn’t have any friends. The only person she knew was me. One afternoon, we went to Jason King’s house. Jason’s parents were gone, we were drinking sodas and vodka, and smoking pot. Emily came over, we got her into Jason’s bed, and got her naked. The guys lined up outside the bedroom, and went in, two, or three at a time. Everyone fucked her. We ran her out of the house into a shed in the backyard. She gave them all blowjobs. I asked if she liked it. She said she did."

Behind the ditzy and carefree world of teenagers, there is some cruelty. 

   As gruesome as this scene is ― how awful it is that he got her drunk and everyone got to have sex with her? ― it shows the true nature of being a teenager. Society is messed up. In a suburban little town like Palo Alto, where everything seems beautiful, nothing really is; there are no silver linings. The way I see this film is in parallel to The Great Gatsby, and how it so accurately portrays the jazz age and the excess glamour that was so important at that time. Palo Alto captures the drug of youth; the need for rebellion; the taunt of alcohol; the sticky, gloomy, constant cloud of depression; unrequited love; and unspoken love. It captures broken youth one brilliantly directed shot at a time.

April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer)
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The film focuses on a girl named April (Emma Roberts) and a boy named Teddy (Jack Kilmer). April is quiet, well-liked, and good at soccer. She babysits her soccer coach's son, and later is involved in an affair with said soccer coach, Mr. B (James Franco). Teddy is an alcoholic who makes poor decisions, but has a good heart that is easily persuaded to do the wrong thing. Teddy is best friends with Fred (Nat Wolff), a riotous, dirty guy. Emily (Zoe Levin), the residential 'whore' gets involved with Fred, but towards the end of the movie, manages to stick up for herself, frustrating and eventually physically hurting Fred. Throughout the whole movie, it is obvious that Teddy is in love with April, and that April might reciprocate the feelings, even though she is hooking up with Mr. B.


The cast and director (from left to right): Zoe Levin (Emily), Jack Kilmer (Teddy), Emma Roberts (April), James Franco (Mr. B), Gia Coppola (director), and Nat Wolff (Fred)
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   When I boil it down, I find the reason why I fell in love with this movie as much as I did wasn't because of the good looking boys or cute clothes, or partying, or anything material. I fell in love with this movie because I fell in love with the characters. April was just like any of us. Brown hair, pale complexion, simple clothes, and simple life, yet she provided for such a good story because she is just like the rest of us, making it thrilling to know that anything could happen just around the bend.

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   Teddy isn't Hollywood attractive ― he’s grungy. Fred, being as wild as he is, would be the classic person your parents would tell you to stay away from (and Teddy’s mom does!). Emily, the victim of many popular girls, is 'easy' because she needs it to boost her self-esteem. 
   Of course, all these characters go back to the book, and the book goes back to the hand of James Franco. So, thank you, Mr. Franco, for being a perfect human being.

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