It would be so easy to hate “Palo Alto.” Like the HBO show “Girls,” seemingly everyone involved got a leg up because of their parentage. Directed by Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford, the lineage of the cast also wreaks of nepotism. However, in all the many factors you might employ to evaluate an artistic work, fairness, we must admit, doesn’t actually come into play.
So yes, it was directed by yet another impossibly cool Coppola, and is based on a book of short stories by handsome but irksome multi-hyphenate James Franco and stars him and Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts’ niece and Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer. So maybe not everyone involved, or anyone involved, exactly pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but what do we expect these people to do, not use their connections so I don’t get annoyed?
So while I’m willing to forgive them for their connections, a less derivative attempt from Coppola might have been in order. The music, the tone and the subject matter is so straightforwardly descended from Sofia Coppola’s increasingly same work that it’s absurd. Apparently, this is the world that these women know, but it’s hard to remain impressed by their artfully dispassionate look into these sunny yet depressing inner sanctums. I know plenty of filmmakers tend to make the same movie over and over again, but when you’re making the movie of another famous relative, I would think you’d feel silly.
The film is about chain smoking, partying, yet expressionless teenagers in California, and their various misadventures as they try to grow up and interact with the equally clueless and irresponsible adults in their lives. As the two most sensitive people around, Emma Roberts and Jack Kilmer are actually compelling, even as they retread familiar territory and meander through the film, even when it’s clear that nothing much is going to happen to them.
Also lighting things up is Nat Wolff as the most animated person in the film, bad boy best friend to Jack Kilmer’s character. It is interesting to watch a scene with his ridiculous and totally inappropriate father, played by Chris Messina, and the most salient thing that the film shows is how the arrested development of the adults in charge of these kids leaves them no chance to grow up without problems. Of course, this movie is too cool to judge them for that. But I’m not!
“Palo Alto” is currently available to rent.