Palo Alto is a confident, uneven debut feature from Gia Coppola. The film is based on the short stories written by James Franco surrounding high school life in the titular city in California, predominantly April (Emma Roberts), a shy soccer star that’s a virgin and seems to be an outcast in the sex-crazed, drug-addled culture. Friends Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and Fred (Nat Wolff) spend most of their days smoking weed and acting crazy to get attention, with Teddy crushing on April and Fred’s lack of restraint and emotional attachment affecting his everyday life. Add in the soccer coach (James Franco) for whom April babysits and simultaneously starts a relationship with and the film becomes an eclectic group of individuals focused on love and escape. The film primarily works due to the talented figure behind the camera, with Coppola proving that she has a knack for showing the world in her own unique way after the success of her other family members. Palo Alto meanders and starts to lose focus in its second half, but its ambition is wide-eyed and shows the deplorable and carelessness of most men. It’s a refreshing take on the high school drama, despite its flaws.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)