Palo Alto movie review (Edinburgh International Film Festival)

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Palo Alto red light

A meditative contemplation of the boredom of overprivileged, under-aspiring, shallow, spoiled kids. As you’ve been dying to see.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I can’t wait for the day when James Franco finally comes out of the performance-art closet and reveals that almost everything he’s done in the past, oh, ten years or so has been part of an intricate ongoing practical joke to yank celebrity culture and our knee-jerk worship of those who are famous. His turn as the charlatan man behind the curtain in Oz the Great and Powerful was a big clue, I think. He’s waiting for someone — anyone — to debunk the smoke and mirrors of the fame that allows him to churn out increasingly ridiculous pontifical junk. And no one does. (Well, I’ve been trying.) And so here we have Palo Alto, yet another attempt to get someone — anyone — to say, “You’re not actually serious with this, are you?”

Now, I haven’t read the collection of Franco-penned short stories this is based on, but I’m going to assume that this pretentiously pensive, meandering film is a fairly accurate representation. Because why else bother? I’m going to take it as a given that Franco in fact concocted conversations among teenaged stoner guys that revolve around such questions as If you were gonna kill yourself, how would you do it? and Would you rather be gay or a girl? (Why not have them debate who would win in a fight, Superman or Mighty Mouse? These things need to be discussed!) I mean, I know stoner teen boys do have conversations like this, but they’re not automatically interesting just by mere dint of them simply happening.

I’m going to take it as a given that Franco in fact came up with the pretty “class virgin” character of April (Emma Roberts: We’re the Millers, Scream 4), who’s kinda into stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and also kinda into her soccer coach, Mr. B (ahem, Franco: Veronica Mars, Homefront), who is also kinda into her.

Which is more risible? 1) The notion that there would be only a “class virgin” in high school (no fiction that pretends to be an honest exploration of modern American adolescence, as this one does, should fall into the adolescent trap of presuming that absolutely all teenagers with few rare exceptions are having all the sex all the time); 2) the conceit that the only other female character in the film, April’s best friend, Emily (Zoe Levin: The Way, Way Back, Trust), is a dirty slutty slut who will blow any guy at any time for any reason (thanks, Franco, for perpetuating the idea that “virgin” or “whore” are the only two states a human woman can exist within); or 3) the fact that Franco allowed himself to be cast as Mr. B. It’s a trick question. Clearly, all are risible, and are desperate cries for Franco’s artistic fakery to be called out.

Wait. It gets better: Franco’s stories are here adapted for the screen and directed by Gia Coppola. Granddaughter of Francis Ford. Whose only previous significant credit — apart from “playing” a baby or a toddler in a couple of Grandpa’s movies — is as “costume staff assistant” on 2010’s Somewhere. Which was written and directed by her cousin Sofia Coppola. This is Hollywood nepotism run so rampant that it’s preposterous, and it has resulted in such insight- and entertainment-free nonsense as gauzy slo-mo visuals of Emily turning sexy-lazy cartwheels while a teenaged boy describes via nostalgia-tinged narration how a whole buncha guys once fucked her at a party. How Franco arranged to get his stories up on the screen via such an avenue remains a mystery, but his brilliance in adding a new layer to his critique of the infinite influence of fame, even only by proxy, must be applauded.

If, on the other hand, Palo Alto is offered in all seriousness as a meditative contemplation of the boredom of overprivileged, under-aspiring, unthinking, shallow, spoiled kids with nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it… nah, that cannot possibly be the case. Who on earth would want to watch that?

viewed during the 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival

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Tue, Jul 08, 2014 3:37pm

I dunno, maybe it was that episode with the seventeen-year-old but James Franco is just starting to seem creepy to me.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  rosterri
Tue, Jul 08, 2014 3:40pm

Oh no, that was just a stunt to promote this movie! #facepalm

Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones
Tue, Jul 08, 2014 11:29pm

I’ve been sick of this guy and his pretensions for a long time.

Wed, Jul 09, 2014 12:54pm

Seems like one of those films which try to be risky but end up being irritating and contrived. Your review made me want to check it out though. If it says you viewed it in the Eidinburgh Film Festival, why does it say “viewed on my iPad” ? Or did the people in charge give you a copy, are there already copies of the film online?

reply to  rondy_sam
Sun, Aug 24, 2014 7:47am

This rant had everything to do with James Franco, and almost nothing to do with the film. In the name of ‘Palo Alto’, perhaps those who grew up in a different situation cannot relate? It’s fact that this is an absolute portrayal of how some people experienced that particular time in life. And yes, some people would want to watch a film like this. Some people aren’t lost in the fantasies of other lives that they don’t have, but just like to know that they aren’t alone. And Some people like to attempt to see the world through another’s perspective. The performances were beautiful, they made it feel like we were actually watching someones life. Not to mention, the stunning cinematography.
It seems that in the rant words are being taken out of someone’s mouth, be it Franco or Coppola, and they’re being twisted. The film was about the specific stories of the main cast. It was never stated that there was only one virgin and one slut, but to a careful teenage girl who doesn’t participate in her seemingly reckless friends’ routine of getting drunk and sleeping around (which believe it or not, happens in real life–quite often) it sure as hell can feel like isolation. Lastly, Sofia Coppola is Gia Coppola’s aunt, not her cousin!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Mov-e-Per-sin
Sun, Aug 24, 2014 11:49am

This sounds like it’s meant to be addressed to me, not to the person you replied to.

perhaps those who grew up in a different situation cannot relate

Could be. But if this film is intended to appeal only to those in the same narrow precise circumstances as its characters, it’s not going to have anything to say to most of its potential audience.

Sofia Coppola is Gia Coppola’s aunt, not her cousin!

I stand corrected. But this doesn’t change the nepotism involved.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Aug 26, 2014 5:41am

Yes, I apologize, wasn’t sure how to work this thing (not a great start, I know).

“Could be. But if this film is intended to appeal only to those in the same narrow precise circumstances as its characters, it’s not going to have anything to say to most of its potential audience.”

Point taken, but as I said, watching a film that is from a perspective that one has not experienced is equally as important as the other way around. I think we can give the movie viewers these days a little bit more credit. Surely this would (did) appeal to more than just those who can directly relate. Curiosity concerning the unknown is a powerful entity.

Doesn’t it seem as though Gia Coppola’s connections in the film world are irrelevant as to whether the film is well made? It’s good or it’s not, based on literally *anything* aside from the director’s family history.

reply to  Mov-e-Per-sin
Tue, Aug 26, 2014 6:18am

Her connections are relevant because they seem to have gotten her a job she wasn’t ready for. It’s possible that she needed more experience before she made a feature film.

Also, in response to your previous post: It’s no surprise that a high school contains a virgin and a promiscuous person. The surprise is that the film doesn’t include any women between the two extremes, only virgin-whore tropes. And come to think of it, in a contemporary film, that’s not much of a surprise at all.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Mov-e-Per-sin
Tue, Aug 26, 2014 12:22pm

And if it’s *not* good, if it’s self-indulgent and pointless, then it’s hard not to see nepotism at work.