Palo Alto

Directed By: Gia Coppola

Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Nat Wolff, Christian Madsen, Keegan Allen, Chris Messina, Jack Kilmer, and Colleen Camp

2013 was such a great year for coming-of-age movies.  We had the likes of Mud, The Kings of Summer, The Way, Way Back, The Spectacular Now, and even arguably Spring Breakers.  2014 doesn't seem to be an equally great year so far.  There simply don't seem to be that many worthwhile coming-of-age movies this year.  The first one up at bat this year is Gia Coppola's Palo Alto, an adaptation of James Franco's series of short stories.  From what I've seen, I can't say that I'm terribly impressed.

Fred (Nat Wolff) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer) are two troubled teenagers.  More often stoned than not, these two close friends have crazy conversations about what it would be like to be kings or pharaohs or how they would respond to stressful situations.  Beyond their outlandish conversations, the two stoner friends don't mind hitting the party scene.  They go to a party one night with their friend April (Emma Roberts) on whom Teddy has a crush.  The feelings are actually mutual between the two.  It's just that neither of them knows it.  When Teddy gets drunk, he foolishly spends some time at the party with Emily (Zoe Levin), a girl who is known for having done anything and everything with every other guy in their class.  This leaves April distraught.  Soon thereafter, a misguided April begins a relationship with her soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco).  Later that same night, Teddy gets into a DUI, and a judge gives him one more chance by putting him on probation.  Because of the probation, he begins spending less time with Fred, the very man who predicted he would be in a DUI in one of their crazy conversations.

Palo Alto leaves a lot to be desired.  Sure, there are some halfway decent tales on paper.  Sure, we have a solid cast featuring James Franco and Emma Roberts.  At the end of the day, however, we're offered a rather low key film that does nothing really to illuminate the struggles or complexities of being an adolescent.  It's just a film about drugs, alcohol, and sex.  It's a rather shallow movie with no additional layers of depth.  There's a good reason James Franco's collection of short stories isn't critically acclaimed, and I understand the reason all too well now having seen the film.

What's really wrong with Palo Alto is that Gia Coppola tries to convey the notion that these teens are rebellious.  They're supposedly defying conventions by sleeping with their soccer coach.  They're defying the rules by driving on the wrong side of the road.  They're drinking and smoking each night away.  All of this is anything but rebellious.  They're all just battling their own personal demons or conforming to social norms.  Why so many of these reasonably well-off youths have so many issues is a mystery to me, but it's not intriguing enough to merit a movie.

Palo Alto gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few calypso mojitos with this one.