Palo Alto, film review: Gia Coppola and talented cast bring James Franco's small dramas to life

(15) Dir. Gia Coppola; Starring Emma Roberts, James Franco, 100mins
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The Independent Culture

James Franco's 2010 short-story collection Palo Alto was inspired by his own, not too distant memories of growing up in that affluent California city, and by stories supplied to him by then current students of Palo Alto High School. Now it has been adapted and filmed by 27-year-old Gia Coppola (Sofia's niece and Francis Ford's grand-daughter), and it retains the authentic-sounding voice of American youth.

It isn't that the script is full of newly minted slang; nor does it say anything about teenage ennui and anomie that wasn't said in the past in the work of, say, Larry Clark, Bret Easton Ellis, or even in Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides. But it rings true – arguably truer than any of those forebears.

The drama is scaled to just the right size: kids get into trouble or inadvisable situations, but there are no major melodramatics. We see them in their natural habitat, and messing about with fireworks, skateboards, flickknives, bullets, drugs and alcohol; trying to look a little older than they really are, while still of an age at which adults seem like a separate species.

Franco has a small but significant part as a pervy soccer coach. And Emma Roberts gives a brilliant performance as April, the unfortunate object of his desire. There's a bittersweet scene in which April is at a party watching the boy she's interested in walk upstairs with another girl. As the camera slowly zooms in on her face, we see all of the confusion replaced by hurt replaced by bravado that the boy who is clumsily trying to chat her up fails to.

It takes a lot of talent to make small dramas like that look so much like real life when they're on-screen. Coppola is fully in control of her material here, and her actors are doing fine work.