Under The Radar Films: Palo Alto (2014)


Ever since the ’80s, it’s been a trend to depict adolescence for what it is: Emotionally turbulent and restless, while equally reckless. Films like The Breakfast Club are made up of characters that have everything together on the outside, but deep down are troubled and lost. The stereotypes were illuminated and broken, and these movies are remembered today for their honest and revolutionary effect on youth. Palo Alto, on the other hand, does not try to shroud adolescent emotions underneath a veil of letterman jackets and sack lunches. Based upon triple threat Hollywood star James Franco’s collection of short stories under the same name, this film festival hit starring American Horror Story’s Emma Roberts, the breakthrough talent Jack Kilmer, and Nat Wolff (Stuck In Love, The Fault In Our Stars) bleeds teenage angst, doubt, and self destruction; three things much of today’s youth are well acquainted with. This film loosely follows the lives of three high schoolers: Fred (Wolff), April (Roberts), and Teddy (Kilmer). It’s revealed early on that Teddy and April have an uncommitted affair of feelings for each other, while Teddy’s reckless, live-wire best friend Fred lends an ill-advised hand to the film. From one high school party to the next, these characters are seen through a bluesy filter of cigarette smoke, promiscuity, gossip, and mischief — The shy loner April deals with a controversial, on-the-fence relationship with her provoking soccer coach (James Franco), Teddy finds himself in the constricted walls of probation, and Fred exacts his thoughtless tendencies on Emily (Zoe Levin), who believes promiscuity will lead to emotional commitment on his behalf.

Underneath it’s plot of loosely strung together characters, Palo Alto is bursting with symbolism that comments on sexual abuse, addiction, and antisocial personality disorder. It illuminates upon many of the problems coursing youth today; relentless partying, self destruction, and even lack of emotional commitment. This film depicts High School with the gritty, susceptible bite of an indie flick, as well as the fiery spirit of adolescence — These qualities assisting in framing a dynamic and emotionally poignant account of being on the edge of youth and the limits of adulthood. Gia Coppola’s directorial touch has Palo Alto touching on subtle ambiguity, but the film-making is conventional enough to please mainstream audiences. An art-house direction is taken in the cinematography as Coppola lingers on shots of chilled colors, neon-stained suburban streets, and bustling parties; dialogue is often vague and un-introduced due to the film’s ambiguous nature. Nonetheless, the magic in Palo Alto lies in what isn’t said. The conversations between characters are intriguingly written and must be analyzed below the surface, as world’s of commentary on social issues hide behind the script. Because the film is based off Franco’s collection of short stories, the perspectives of these characters are not flawlessly intertwined; you must keep up as April deals with her contentious relationship with Mr. B along with her feelings for Teddy, and the psychology of Fred’s impulsive, insensitive nature is lying just a few feet deeper than the movie wades in.

The real star of Coppola’s film is Nat Wolff. Former child star and recent breath-through actor, Wolff treads the character of Fred with a psychotic, brash twist. Instability can be seen within the eyes of his performance, and his expression of the character Fred is endlessly mesmeric. Emma Roberts embraces the character of April with a shy, distant touch; two characteristics of the character that leave the true emotion to be interpreted through her body language and actions. Jack Kilmer’s character Teddy seems to hold the perspective of the film, however. His brooding, level-headed camera presence brings the film a precarious atmosphere as Teddy contributes a faded sense of steadiness to Palo Alto.

Palo Alto is an emotionally ambitious film that strikes all the chords it sets for itself. One of the most unprecedented, stirring accounts of adolescence to hit the big screen in decades, this is not a movie for the lighthearted or the mentally casual; Palo Alto will immerse you into the lives of characters where nothing is safe and the future is constantly dangling on a fault line. For a unique account on the unconventional beauty of youth, this sleeper hit will insight and impress.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Oi1QrqCn68]