Tribeca Film has snapped up North American rights to Gia Coppola’s feature debut “Palo Alto,” based on James Franco’s short story collection, and starring Emma Roberts, Franco, Val Kilmer, James Kilmer, Nat Wolff and Zoe Levin.
Tribeca’s planning a spring 2014 release date for the title; it had a well-reviewed debut out of the Telluride and Venice film festivals earlier this season. While Coppola (who is the granddaughter of Francis Ford and the niece of Sofia) displays visual chops and gets good performances, the film is set against the backdrop of an overly familiar distressed teen milieu. Official synopsis below, plus a review roundup:
Palo Alto weaves together three stories of teenage lust,
boredom, and self-destruction: shy, sensitive April (Emma Roberts), torn
between an illicit flirtation with her soccer coach (James Franco) and an
unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer); Emily (Zoe Levin), who
offers sexual favors to any boy to cross her path; and the increasingly
dangerous exploits of Teddy and his best friend Fred (Nat Wolff), whose behavior
may or may not be sociopathic. One of the strongest American directorial debuts
of the past decade, Coppola’s film has a palpable sense of time and place, but
her characters — seeking cheap thrills and meaningful connections — could be
teenagers from any generation.
The best feature film directed by someone named Coppola in a
number of years, Palo Alto is a dreamy looking, unsensationalized portrait of
badly behaved residents of a notably affluent California town. Directed and
written by Gia Coppola, who here extends the family dedication to filmmaking
into a third generation, this adaptation of James Franco’s short-story
collection Palo Alto Stories deals with such familiar hot-button teen issues as
suicide, drugs, drinking and random sex, but from the coolly observational
perspective of a curious artist rather than from a hormonal or sociological
point of view; creatively, it’s almost the polar opposite of something
deliberately confronting and self-consciously provocative like Harmony Korine’s
Spring Breakers. Commercial prospects are modest but it’s a very creditable
Gia Coppola proves to have quite the eye, if not quite the
natural storytelling instinct of her cinematic kin, serving up a remarkably
assured feature debut with “Palo Alto.” Drawn from James Franco’s short-story
collection, which consists mostly of driving drunk, smoking weed and
deflowering virgins, this group portrait of disaffected Northern California
teens goes to impressive lengths to develop the characters and shape their
experience into something meaningful without ever quite cracking how its
various vignettes should function as a whole. Coppola curiosity and the
participation of name actors (including Franco) should earn this provocative
effort a wider audience than your typical wasted-youth pics.
Though it lacks a cohesive means of fusing together its
interlocking vignettes, “Palo Alto” effectively showcases the despair
and sophomoric rebellion of teen life with a mature eye that clearly
establishes a new filmmaker to watch.
The film overstays its welcome a touch and ultimately feels
fairly disposable, simply due to how well-trodden the territory is. But it’s
still a strong and soulful debut from Coppola (whose aunt must be feeling a bit
shown up—it’s a much more textured and convincing take on the
rich-youth-gone-wild tale than “The Bling Ring”).
Coppola’s adaptation owns the humility of Franco’s short
stories and coheres them into something significant – as fun as “Risky
Business” and as sincere as “The Spectacular Now”, “Palo Alto” is one of the
best movies ever made about high school life in America (admittedly a low bar),
blurring the lines between how unique it is to be a teenager, and how universal
it is to feel like one.