Sean K. Cureton

Posts Tagged ‘Palo Alto’

Palo Alto & the Quiet Rebellion of Youth

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on February 20, 2016 at 1:01 pm
Palo Alto Movie Review

Tribeca Film

Palo Alto (2013)
Directed by Gia Coppola
VOD Rating: Liked It

Based on the collection of short stories by multi-media artist and actor James Franco, Palo Alto is the directorial debut from Gia Coppola, the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and the niece of his daughter Sofia Coppola. Like the book of prose upon which Coppola’s coming of age drama is based, the film details the quiet rebellion of youth perennially in revolt against the landscape of modern day Palo Alto, California, where the American malcontents of a dawning generation are forced to reckon with themselves and one another in the midst of violent passion and apathetic dispassion. The movie stars such young adult thespians as Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, and Nat Wolff in the lead roles, while James Franco and Val Kilmer stand-in as some kind of bizarre mirror to the former protagonists’ self-defeating ambitions, or lack thereof. Throughout Coppola’s film, Roberts, Kilmer, and Wolff are compelling as a collective unit, with the two former innocents continually corrupted and held apart from one another by the corrosive influence of Wolff’s aimless delinquent. The three characters comprise a drama that ends in a whisper as opposed to the bang constantly on the verge of erupting, echoing the lack of power held by those in a state of adolescence, perpetual or temporary.

Of particular interest in the film’s adaptation of a collection of individually disparate narratives from Franco’s original book is the story of Kilmer as Teddy, a sweet aspiring visual artist held back by his own naïveté and indiscretion brought about by an overriding immaturity. In Franco’s hands, Teddy doesn’t feel nearly as compelling as he does when portrayed by Kilmer as seen through the eyes of Coppola, whose collective poetry in motion suggests a certain intelligence absent or so deeply submerged beneath Franco’s aesthetic façade initially to be rendered indistinguishable. Likewise, Roberts as April is a welcome breath of fresh air in much the same way that Kristen Stewart is, stemming not so much from an actor fully in control of her art, but an individual who seamlessly influences the drama around her via an indescribable charm and savant-like appeal. And Wolff as Fred might be the most interesting character of all, as his self-destructive misogyny appears to have been inherited by the examples of masculinity presented to him in the surrounding the culture. By the end of the film, Teddy, April, and Fred may have committed gross acts of personal prejudice against themselves and one another, but their error is one of a surrounding society that apparently breeds upon malice and ill-will.

At one point over the course of the film’s subtly told drama, Coppola interweaves a single shot of Teddy donning a wolf suit obviously reminiscent of the one worn by Maurice Sendak’s juvenile delinquent in the classic children’s storybook Where the Wild Things Are. This moment is small and fleeting, and could be easily glossed over as a meager attempt at suggesting an underlying disquiet within Teddy, but in its brevity of focus upon the viewer’s attention, it becomes ever more memorable, and proves to be an image that is burned into the viewer’s mind long after the film has concluded. Like Sendak’s pre-pubescent rebel, Coppola’s band of teenage misfits want so dearly to cast off the seeming shackles of suburban complacency, but are so dependent upon the very source of their anger that they are forced to concede to the powers that be, however temporarily. Franco’s book tells stories that are objectively unsettling and pruriently entertaining in subject matter, with several sequences focusing upon wildly imaginative acts of sexual violence that come right out of the fevered American nightmare of a good Bret Easton Ellis novel. Coppola, instead of depicting these acts outright, suggests them through the underlying intentions of Wolff’s Fred, whose desire to take what he wants is so often denied form him, resulting in the very near tragedy of personal annihilation in the film’s thrilling final sequence.

What makes Palo Alto such a memorable event in the contemporary cinematic landscape derives from Coppola’s ability to dissect the visual elements of Franco’s prose that stick with the reader, and now the viewer, despite the overriding thematic redundancy of the film’s central narrative. Roberts, Kilmer, and Wolff all play their parts to a tee, and their temporary rebellion of youthful ignorance echoes that of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange before them. In adapting the stories of Franco, Coppola has a found a means by which the former writer’s debut book of prose to the realm of communally shared fantasy, and extracts some of the most universal feelings from said adapted source. Long after having watched Coppola’s film, the scenes, scenarios, and brief glimpses of spiritual epiphany still ring loudly, even as the content of said ephemera proves to be as insubstantial as adolescence likewise becomes in retrospect. Franco might be a distracting influence upon the film’s surrounding intentions, but through Coppola’s intense gaze even some of the film’s more tiresome clichés become imbued with a newfound inspiration that appears entirely novel and revelatory, however briefly.

Palo Alto is currently available through Amazon Prime, and is My VOD Movie Review of the week.

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