Santa Cruz Good Times

Monday
Oct 20th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Untamed Youth

fm paloGia Coppola’s ‘Palo Alto’ captures the highs and lows of adolescence

James Franco’s Brett Easton Ellis-like list of sensations in short story form has been inverted in Gia Coppola’s fine debut Palo Alto. Maybe the problem with reading it was that it was meant to be a movie all along. Franco’s book was like a medieval chronicle; this happened and then that happened, no reason given. This was deliberate; one subplot in Palo Alto concerns the problem of causation. The troubled Fred (Nat Wolff, very good) likes to quiz anyone who’ll listen on how they’d live if they lived in the time of the Egyptians or the knights in armor. It’s as if he felt his lack of options was determined centuries ago.

The difference is that the sexes have been switched: the main point of view is not a teen boy but a teen girl, April, played winningly and touchingly by Emma Roberts. Dismissed by her mean, popular friends as a “sweet little virgin,” she has the intelligence to understand what’s going wrong around here. Roberts’ April is tremendously expressive, but not saltless, spineless or pathetic; she does beguilingly forlorn things like perching in the floor of her locker when she eats lunch, so that it guards her back like a tortoise’s shell .

April likes the shy Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and keeps seeing him socially, but there’s interference. Mr. B (Franco) her soccer coach, has a thing for her. And the promiscuous Emily (Zoe Levin) also interferes, helping herself to Teddy at a drunken party, before eventually hooking up with Fred. Coppola handles the sex scenes above the neck, mostly. If, during a summer morning sequence, Coppola lays Levin out on a couch like one of her aunt Sophia’s odalisques, Coppola also focuses on Levin’s green eyes as she judges what effect she’s having on Teddy as she gives him oral sex. Likewise, the director tells the stages of losing virginity by a closeup on an actor’s mouth.   

Unsupervised parties hold the four corners of the story together, but they’re neutrally told: Coppola floats along with it, not judging it as Roman decadence, and yet never swept away by the tides. Franco’s legends of Palo Alto in the 1990s have been updated to the present, and with maybe a bit of anachronism. Times weren’t as loose as the ’70s, but an affair between a teacher and a student some 20 years ago was still not the stuff of the kind of scandals they have now. Unlike the next bumper of Franco short stories adapted into film—the ones his company was filming locally last winter—Palo Alto wasn’t filmed in Palo Alto. But the locations are also not noticeably not Palo Alto, even though I thought I saw an LAPD medallion on a police car. Coppola has sanded off the present references; she shows us a high school world in which institutions and rituals haven’t changed. She sums up the forlornness, the late nights and morning dawdling; she recalls the sad little rituals, like how the last lucky cigarette must be inverted in the pack.

The drawback is the usual one: a standard young-adult novel view of adults as predatory, clueless, patronizing, grotesque, Fellini-sized, tellers of shudderingly unfunny dirty jokes. It’s a tight race, but first prize for weirdness goes to Val Kilmer as Grace’s creep of a stepfather, vegetating in a den of post-it notes and half-eaten food. I’d never say Kilmer was as good as Brando, but he’s certainly getting Brando’s Hereford-sized beefiness. (Shave his head and he’d look like Kurtz.)  

Ultimately, Palo Alto does an excellent job of capturing the adolescent point of view, the constant longing for some other place, some other time—some hope of escape. Coppola visualizes an open end: Teddy and Fred’s road taking a final fork, a lonely nocturnal walkway versus a fast track to self-destruction. In this sensitive film, she evokes a journey it was important to travel, but one you’d never want to retread:  that terrible time of waiting around, locked out of childhood and adulthood alike.


Palo Alto

Written and directed by Gia Coppola, starring Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer and James Franco. R; 100 min.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Field Work

Santa Cruz Mountain winemakers explain how the harvest works, and what kind of wine to expect from this year's crop

 

Libra's Two Choices

Libra (our last week) is the sign of creating right relations and values. In Libra we are asked to choose how to be, our identity in the world. We can maintain a hermetic sealed-off attitude (my life, my work, my money, etc.) or we can gain knowledge of world events and learn more about those in need. Libra is a group sign—self with others. Here are some events occurring in our world this week concerning food, poverty, spirituality, values and global realities. The UN (a spiritual experiment) each month places a “light” upon world problems. This week a light shines on Rural Women, Farms, Food & Poverty. Before we choose to respond we must have knowledge. “So we can each do our part.” Oct. 15 - International Day of Rural Women (unrecognized with few resources); Oct. 16 - World Food Day & Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth; Oct. 17 - Eradication of Poverty Day (international). During the month of Libra (with Saturn exalted), we pause, contemplate and assess what it is we know, don’t know, and need to know. Libra receives and distributes Ray 3 of divine intelligence, right relations, right choice and right economy (Venus). Use your intelligence “tips the Libran scales” in terms of being able to see and then choose between the two paths Libra offers (return to the past or step forward into Scorpio’s Discipleship). Libra (the oscillating light) prepares us for the great tests and conflicts in Scorpio. In Libra we are subtly tested as we learn the nature of polarized energies (s/he loves me, s/he loves me not). In Libra we learn more about ourselves through others. Libra’s Ray 3 asks us to become more adaptable and skillful. And then we are to teach each other what we know. In Libra, we all become teachers. In all these ways love is cultivated.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Docs Without Borders

United Nations Association Film Festival showcases documentaries from around the globe
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Nut Kreations

Co-owner Craig Olsen goes nuts over nuts

 

What artist or artists participating in the encore weekend of Open Studios should not be missed?

Santa Cruz | Teacher

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Friends who are wine club members of Martin Ranch invited us to the winery’s fun and festive annual barbecue, where the wine is flowing and the food just keeps on coming. Music and dancing are part and parcel of the action, and a good time is guaranteed.

 

Beer Bus

Santa Cruz’s new Brew Cruz, award winning ales, mole by el Jardín, and Wildcat Ridge Chardonnay