Palo Alto

WRITTEN BY: Gia Coppola
DIRECTED BY: Gia Coppola
STARRING: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Val Kilmer, Nat Wolff
RATING: 3.5 stars

When I read James Franco's book of linked short stories, I was drawn into the lives of his complex teenage characters struggling to find their place in the world. Writer/director Gia Coppola has adapted parts of the book and combined some characters to create her first feature film. Palo Alto is a dark film about teenage angst, and although it is slow in parts, it is a promising debut from yet another Coppola filmmaker.

April (Emma Roberts) is a virginal schoolgirl dangerously flirting with her soccer coach Mr B (Franco) who she spends extra time with when she baby-sits his son. She also has a crush on troubled teenager Teddy (Jack Kilmer). Meanwhile, Emily (Zoe Levin) offers sexual favours to every boy, including Teddy and his outrageous best friend Fred (Nat Wolff). April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection for each other and soon their lives spiral down a path neither of them expected.

Roberts plays the sweet and innocent role very well and has great chemistry with Franco, who turns on the charm as the sleazy teacher. Kilmer gives a great debut performance and there are definite hints of his famous father in some of his facial expressions. In fact, Val Kilmer does have a small role in the film too, although the father and son do not share any screen time. Levin and Wolff are also solid.

Artistically, Coppola has experimented with lighting and has shot the sex scenes in an interesting way involving shadows and close-ups on female faces. It is effective in showing how the teenage girls feel about having sex.

Palo Alto is a departure from the book, but the film is an interesting take on teenage life.