PALO ALTO // Believe it or not, but actor and director James Franco is also a published author. His 2010 published collection of short stories titled “Palo Alto” is based somewhat on his life of growing up in that area of Southern California. Centered around different high schoolers and their bouts with drinking, drugs, and violence, the collection spawned a film; the directorial debut of the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, twenty-seven year old Gia Coppola. As far as coming-of-age, high school dramas go, “Palo Alto” remains on point and relevant throughout, bringing to life some of the strange and very dark occurrences that young adults have to face regarding peer pressure, experimenting, and dealing with the changes around them. The grim sister of films like “Dazed And Confused” or “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”, Coppola’s undertaking brings the same dynamic of high school but with an updated and refreshing feel, despite the poignant content.

Author James Franco also stars in the film, as a soccer coach who starts an affair with one of the high school girls on his team, April, played by the very talented Emma Roberts. Appearing on the poster of the film, April ties the film together, also playing the love interest of Teddy, played by Val Kilmer’s son Jack Kilmer. The troubled Teddy fumbles about with this unrequited love as well as dealing with his wild best friend Fred (Nat Wolff) who often becomes more trouble than he is worth as he chainsaws trees and drives into inanimate objects. In smaller roles, Chris Messina and Val Kilmer both play fathers that bring something new to these roles and cause even more ripples in the pond that is the conflict of this film. With drunk driving, underage affairs, and the on-going theme of childhood lost, “Palo Alto” is also reminiscent of stories like “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” and “Donnie Darko”. All of these stories and films are about what it is like to grow up in their particular eras, most of the time taking a good hard look at the cold hard, messy truth that provides something almost of a redeeming nature for those us, Franco included, who grew up through similar occurrences.

[Directed by Gia Coppola] [R] [100 min] [9 May 2014]   08four-stars

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