Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Palo Alto

*** out of ****

In Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, Palo Alto, a family legacy continues. Francis Ford Coppola has handed down filmmaking advice to his family in the same way one patriarch may share secret ingredients or life lessons. It may sound cheap for me to attribute artistic ability to a family name but I can’t help but observe a lineage of ambition in some areas. Francis knew how a scene needed to be lit, what it was about and what needed to happen but if unpredictable crap got in the way, he wasn’t quick to fight it off. This is the reason for a cat in Marlon Brando’s lap during the opening scene of The Godfather.

So… What does this have to do with his granddaughter who has just made a film about wealthy white suburban teens in California? Well, it feels like a film by her Aunt Sofia and a little bit like one by her Uncle Roman. All of these people seem to know how to frame a shot, get the actors comfortable and just go with whatever comes their way. They all succeed in creating aimless but hypnotically atmospheric films.

In each filmmaker’s case, they work from what they know. Gia has made a film about modern teens who are kind of smart but don’t understand their feelings. She directs with the kind of ease that one may feel when their high school years are behind yet still in the rearview mirror. She shows empathy for their problems and displays their recklessness without apology. The adults in their lives are absent and sometimes obliviously contribute to their delinquency.

The film is written by Coppola and based on short stories by James Franco, who also appears in the film. Emma Roberts, Nat Wolff and Jack Kilmer get the most focus among the characters. They are all good young actors who meet the task of inhabiting the world that teens create when they lack aspiration.

There is an audience for this movie but not a big one. It falls into the “mumblecore” realm and is committed to its troubled characters so realistically, that it may turn off a lot of people.

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