Palo Alto, Another Look


Film Blogger Aaron Hunt ( who recently commented on my blog post at, gives another perspective on the film.  Who do you agree with? 

Though I must respectably disagree, I loved this film. I may just have to post a review in order to combat it. What do we learn in the end? I think the knowledge is plentiful, and Coppola’s direction completely elevates Franco’s otherwise dry material. But I will leave justification to my review, keep an eye out for it.

So you say, you are detached from the characters – that you do not care, that the film is a sequence of extreme situations that don’t glue, that the parents are undrawn absent existences . . .

So you have noted deliberate choices, not critiques, not mistakes. What non neutral comments made, are that of successful direction, technical, fever dream beauty, mood . . .  Palo Alto is exactly what it wants to be, it is not the short stories of James Franco, those parched pages have been entirely escalated, nurtured to full bloom. The Short Stories weren’t even the seed, they were the dirt, simply a means, Coppola provides all. 

It is first, a mood piece, so the maximal situations are an attempt to gather the the feelings of youth, the seemly importance of every choice, decision and mistake, the fears, the love, and the confusion. There is Teddy (Jack Kilmer), there is April (Emma Roberts), and there is their antithesis Fred (An incredible Nat Wolff) and Emily (Zoe Levin). And because you are at length while watching the characters, you see them in their place, and their juxtaposition and its effect is clear, it becomes a hazy, cautionary fairy tale. 

Although the title Palo Alto is exactly the same as Franco’s short stories, it has an opposite effect. It has an otherworldly context, the specifics hardly matter, but the texture and smear of this  wide brush stroke do. The short stories were one of explicitly, with those the title provided a specific setting, a specific people, with specific behavior, for the film the title holds no resonance and is fully detached it could be set anywhere perhaps even a dream. 

But watch Gia Coppola work, she is a natural visual storyteller, watch what her camera lingers on, a toy horse, a doll, a star necklace, lips, eyes… I love instances of film that can communicate to you without words. Palo Alto’s imagery is anything but subtle but it speaks simply, of loss of innocence, of disassociation, and in the end, of something of a grander scale. 

Teddy and April are the heart of the film, and when the tides of their debaucherous world finally calm, they settle by a fire; providing nearly the only scene not drenched in a coat of cyan. They seem apart of it only because they have to, and separated because they’re immune and don’t require it. 

Fred is volatile, a bullet hammering dastardly mess, his oxygen is provided by the highs of danger and extremes. Emily wants to be loved and acts out desperately, sexually, in attempt to find it.  Fred because of some deep seeded emotions and a curious father character. Emily due to feelings of some preordained neglect and detachment. Their connection is through their isolation and sadness, it is bittersweet and tragic. 

In their conclusions the message is clear, you come out of the prickly obstacle of adolescence either as Teddy, in reasonable pace up a street with hopes of love, as  April, making a wish on her last cigarette, or as Fred self fueled towards your own demise, as Emily crying alone beside a pool. 


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