Notes On Netflix: Palo Alto

Kathi Bundy starts her new Netflix column with a look into Palo Alto, a film featuring Emma Roberts. It most notably explores the difficulties faced by a group of teenagers experiencing the change into adulthood, a change which we are all somewhat facing right now…

Film: Palo Alto – Gia Coppola, 15, 2013 

Photo credit: Independent

Perfect for: anyone who has a fondness for indie movies or artistic film shots

Netflix rates it: 3/5

I rate it: 4/5

Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut in feature film, is a look into the lives of a group of teens with no direction in life and the antics they get up to in an attempt to fill their free time (which they clearly have a lot of). Think Skins, but set in California with a more entitled group of characters. With an indie-pop soundtrack (thanks, Devonte Hynes) that perfectly fits with the sun-bleached landscapes where the characters spend their time, Palo Alto bears the marks of a typical indie film. The pastel colour palette Coppola uses is also often used in this genre, however she does is so artfully (due to her photography background), it holds more weight here than it would in others’ work.

Jack Kilmer makes his film debut as Teddy, one of the main characters, and captures his struggle between innocence and adulthood perfectly. In fact, the overall theme of the film seems to be the battle between these two states, with all the main characters facing decisions that show them confused with which state they belong in. Images such as smoking in a children’s park and a girls’ bedroom decorated with stickers while empty bottles of alcohol lie on the floor display this conflict. This really is the charm of Palo Alto; it so effortlessly depicts the real struggles of teens as they verge on adulthood and face the responsibilities that come with it. Possibly one of the most realistic performances comes from Emma Roberts as April, as her struggle with her parents treating her like a child while she is confused about university is again another perfect example of the conflicts in life around that age. The informed performance likely comes from the fact that Roberts is twenty-four years old, and has had real world experience of this difficult age. Though this can sometimes be a downfall of casting older actors, it really works in the films’ favour here as Roberts easily still passes for a teen, and brings the necessary air of responsibility that April’s character demands.

The only downfall is that Palo Alto loses some direction when not focused on Roberts. Hers is by far the strongest, most consistent storyline in the film and when she does not appear in a scene, the reason for watching can occasionally be temporarily forgotten. However, the lack of direction in the characters and the mundane realism of their everyday lives is sort of the point of the film in the first place; with Fred (played by Nat Wolff) even questioning “where are we going” at one point.

Based on a collection of short stories written by James Franco (who also stars in the film), Palo Alto brings a collection of characters to the screen who, yes, are narcissistic, self-absorbed, and in some cases just plain horrible, but this is part of the films’ excellency. Although the characters are not immediately likeable, they do have a relatable quality about them, and this is why Palo Alto is a film that should be given a chance by everybody.

Kathi Bundy

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