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Critics' Pick Palo Alto

Movie Details

Palo Alto
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Date: 2014-05-09 NY/LA 2014-05-16 Limited
  • Running Time: 98 min.
  • Director: Gia Coppola
  • Cast: Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Keegan Allen
  • Distributor: Tribeca Film
  • Official Site: Palo Alto Official Site

Remarkable as it seems, there’s still poetry to be found in the idea of kids tooling around with nothing much to do. Gia Coppola's directorial debut, Palo Alto, captures the vibe of late high school perfectly, in a way that's both of its time and timeless. Palo Alto is set in the present, an era in which kids can text one another their whereabouts instead of having to walk or drive around aimlessly until they run into someone they know, or might want to know. Yet Coppola, working from James Franco's book of short stories, quietly makes the case that our gadgets can't save us from the eternal fear of not connecting. When a boy really likes a girl, he still has to bring himself to look directly at her. It’s all there in Coppola’s movie, the listlessness, the at once hyperkinetic and underwater-slow feeling of waiting for something to happen and fearing nothing ever will.

In it, two upper-middle-class but otherwise average kids -- played beautifully by Emma Roberts and newcomer Jack Kilmer -- find their way to each other, the long way around. The plotlessness is its own kind of structure, forming an irregular net studded with both golden promise and opportunities for its characters to make some very bad decisions. Coppola's filmmaking style, like a sidelong glance, is almost paradoxically shy and confident at once, and her movie is of exceedingly delicate feeling, the kind you can make only when you're very young or very old. Coppola -- granddaughter of Francis Ford, niece of Sofia -- is just 27, and her movie, for and about young people, breathes in deeply.

Stephanie Zacharek

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