‘Palo Alto’: Well, it’s a start for another Coppola

05/29/2014 10:30 AM

05/29/2014 10:55 AM

The most remarkable thing about “Palo Alto,” a chronicle of suburban teenage ennui, is the name of the first-time director and screenwriter: Gia Coppola. Yep, she’s the 27-year-old granddaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sofia.

The second most notable thing about it is that it’s based on a series of short stories by co-star James Franco. The third is that, while it shows Coppola has talent, it’s also as aimless as her characters’ self-absorbed, self-medicated, joyless lives.

“Palo Alto,” which doesn’t seem to take place in the California town of the same name, focuses on two high-school students: Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and April (Emma Roberts). They like each other but are too shy to do anything about it. Instead, Teddy prefers to get stoned and hang around with his sociopathic best friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), whose inappropriate dad (Chris Messina) likes Teddy a bit too much.

Meanwhile, April is in the middle of an ongoing flirtation with her single-dad soccer coach (Franco), for whom she also babysits. There are few consequences for anyone’s actions, even after a drunk Teddy has a car wreck, and there are few redeeming qualities to any of the characters.

Yes, that’s the point and it has the feel of realism but, ultimately, “Palo Alto” becomes as unlikable as the people on screen. Directors Gus Van Zant (“Elephant”) and Larry Clark (“Kids,” “Bully”) have explored the often grim and cruel boredom of adolescence with more pay-off.

Still, for someone making a debut film, Coppola shows a confidence that bodes well for future, more-focused projects.

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