The nepotism level on writer-director Gia Coppola’s feature debut is high. It would be irritating if Palo Alto were as bad as, say, her uncle Roman’s triple barf-fest A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. But Palo Alto isn’t bad. It’s good. It doesn’t say anything new or revelatory, but sometimes good is good enough, especially when the movie knows its characters so well. Palo Alto feels like an early Bret Easton Ellis story with less nihilism. That isn’t all bad, either.

Based on James Franco’s story collection, the screen version follows high schoolers Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val, who also appears), April (Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric, niece of Julia) and Fred (Nat Wolff, whose parents you may not know, but are indeed insiders), as they are alternately bored, neglected, overwhelmed and drugged out.

The plot—threadbare, but plot isn’t the point—follows Teddy from a DUI to community service. He likes Emma, but she’s shy, and she has a thing for her soccer coach (a slimy Franco). And Fred is just nuts; his behavior—knives, drunk driving—truly scary.

Palo Alto is hard to enjoy—also not a bad thing—and it will be interesting to see where Coppola goes next. The leads, particularly Wolff, are excellent.


Directed by Gia Coppola
With Kilmer, Roberts and Wolff
CCA Cinematheque
100 min.