Friday, June 06, 2014

PALO ALTO: Franco Adapted Aimlessly

Now playing at an art house near me:

PALO ALTO (Dir. Gia Coppola, 2013)

James Franco's 2010 book of short stories that you didn't read gets adapted by a member of Francis Ford Coppola's family that you've never heard of in this aimless depiction of aimless Californian high school kids that you should skip.

The directorial debut of Coppola's grand daughter Gia, PALO ALTO introduces us to a small group of characters, neither of which feel fully fleshed out.

Let's see, there's a couple of stoner buddies, Teddy and Fred, played by Jack Kilmer (Val Kilmer's son) and Nat Wolff; who get in a hit-and-run accident early in the film. Teddy was driving so he ends up with community service, while Fred hooks up with Zoe Levin - a girl derided by her classmates as a “blowjob whore.

More importantly there's Emma Roberts as a sensitive soccer playing virgin who baby-sits for her flirty coach (Franco, slyly stepping into his own material).

We've also got Val Kilmer as Robert's stoner stepfather, Jacqui Getty as her disconnected mother, and Coppola family friend Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci, to fans of classic SNL) as an art teacher who may have the key to the film's supposed message.

Novello, in an anecdote devised as a criticism of Wolff's tossed off artwork, speaks of having a near death experience in which he realized he was in somebody else's shoes. It was somebody named Bob's “tunnel of death” and he could reverse the trajectory.

That message is all well and good, but the film's loose structure and artsy montages of these folks' meaningless existence doesn't earn the film the weighty conclusion its going for. It's as half baked as any of the threads here.

Because of the rowdy party scenes throughout, I felt like the film itself was a party; albeit one that I wasn't a friend of anyone there and didn't want to stick around. You know those lame parties where suddenly somebody cool shows up and you think 'hey, this might good'?

Well, that's how it felt here when Chris Messina (The Mindy Project, ARGO, JULIE & JULIA) appeared as Wolff's stoner father (yes, everybody is a stoner here) who appears to try to put the moves on Kilmer's Teddy. But after one brief scene that doesn't amount to much, Messina is gone and we're back with these dull, drifting drones.

PALO ALTO doesn't seem to have anything to say about these people. The theme of waste comes to mind when seeing Kilmer toss his just complimented on art into a hallway trashcan, or in the way the camera lingers on a pink milkshake thrown onto the pavement, but that idea is just one of many that isn't followed through. I will say that Autumn Durald's cinematography is often stunning, however.

Franco's creepy coach character, whose pleading to Roberts to be with him may be one of the hardest to watch moments in his entire career, has no depth either. Its a small sideline role that gives us no insight to who the guy is, except that he's a pedophile, but that we could guess rat off the bat.

Roberts, who should be given credit for doing her best with this dire material, blankly says in one party scene: “I think all movies and TV and video games these days are pointless.” Well, not all, but this one sure is.

More later...

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