Palo Alto movie review (Edinburgh International Film Festival)

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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