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Palo Alto - Aimlessly Youthful

Reviews
by Carlos Aguilar
May 10, 2014 2:00 PM
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Palo Alto

To seek instant satisfaction that fills a void carved out of purposelessness is the perennial remedy for a case of teenage angst. Whether this soothing reward is found in the form of sex, love, drugs, or violence depends on all sorts of social conventions and expectations that shape the transitional years of each tormented adolescent. In the wake of so many disconcerting emotions, there is always an impending need to speed up the process of maturity. Doing the wrong things that seem cool, avoiding the good things that are not, in order to become what the crowd wants you to be. In her impressively layered debut feature Gia Coppolaexplores the idea of premature adulthood and the bewildering search for identity.

Emma Roberts and James Franco

Based on several shorts stories by the man that never sleeps, James Franco, Palo Alto centers around three high schoolers growing up and making mistakes in this affluent Californian town. Enchanting Emma Roberts irradiates cautious confidence as the well-behaved April, a smart girl who plays soccer for the school’s team and appears as the most stable character in a sea of hormone-driven youngsters.



Among the latter kind, Teddy (Jack Kilmer)and Fred (Nat Wolff) stand out as pair of troublemakers that couldn’t be more different from one another. Longhaired Teddy is in love with April, but she doesn’t know it, his deviant deeds come as a result of these secret feeling and the need be accepted by his male peers, specifically his best pal. Fred, on the other hand, is incredibly more troubled than any of his comrades. His sexually deviant conduct, drug dependency, and the increasingly dangerous and violent stunts he plans, speak of misguided social skills and unspoken trauma.

Undoubtedly their days are embellished by lots of alcohol, partying, promiscuity, and other mood-altering substances that seem to make them feel alive by covering up a corrosive sense of apathy and entitlement. This is clearly no new ground, but the stylistic choices by a new member of the Coppola cinematic lineage, transcend the premise of wealthy American teens struggling to find themselves. Disturbingly honest and on point about the motivations of its characters' selfish actions, the director contemplates their irrational decisions without passing judgment.

Roberts performance is astounding, she glows with contained vulnerability and clever discretion. April is not the naïve type, yet she lets herself be seduced completely aware of the immoral nature of her actions. Even Franco in a small role as a coach who engages in unlawful relations with his players, serves as evidence that being a grownup is a very relative concept. Desire and loneliness act as stronger forces than responsibility or professionalism.

Completely intoxicating the senses, the music by Devonte Hynes and Robert Schwartzman verges on being a collection of abstract sounds that seamlessly match the images. The film is a ravishing statement from a promising new voice in American cinema. Visually and thematically referencing films like Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, Larry Clark’s Ken Park, and even Where the Wild Things Are, it is obvious that this work is more about its aimlessly youthful characters' self-discovery than about any perceptible singular conflict. Within the saturated atmosphere of the film one can see glimpses of harrowing and revelatory truth - timeless and current at once.

The protagonists’ role models are vague, absent, unaware of the laws that govern the lives of those being young in a time and place in which nothing really matters. Punishments and consequences are subjective in the Palo Alto universe, thus each person has a chance to be devoured by remorse or move on nonchalantly. Perhaps such lack of enforced morality or judgmental parameters is even scarier than the imprisoning chains of structure. At least with the latter you know what to expect.

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