By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood December 2, 2013 at 1:13PM
Tribeca Film has snapped up North American rights to Gia Coppola's feature debut "Palo Alto," based on James Franco's short story collection, and starring Emma Roberts, Franco, Val Kilmer, James Kilmer, Nat Wolff and Zoe Levin.
Tribeca's planning a spring 2014 release date for the title; it had a well-reviewed debut out of the Telluride and Venice film festivals earlier this season. While Coppola (who is the granddaughter of Francis Ford and the niece of Sofia) displays visual chops and gets good performances, the film is set against the backdrop of an overly familiar distressed teen milieu. Official synopsis below, plus a review roundup:
Palo Alto weaves together three stories of teenage lust, boredom, and self-destruction: shy, sensitive April (Emma Roberts), torn between an illicit flirtation with her soccer coach (James Franco) and an unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer); Emily (Zoe Levin), who offers sexual favors to any boy to cross her path; and the increasingly dangerous exploits of Teddy and his best friend Fred (Nat Wolff), whose behavior may or may not be sociopathic. One of the strongest American directorial debuts of the past decade, Coppola's film has a palpable sense of time and place, but her characters — seeking cheap thrills and meaningful connections — could be teenagers from any generation.
The best feature film directed by someone named Coppola in a number of years, Palo Alto is a dreamy looking, unsensationalized portrait of badly behaved residents of a notably affluent California town. Directed and written by Gia Coppola, who here extends the family dedication to filmmaking into a third generation, this adaptation of James Franco’s short-story collection Palo Alto Stories deals with such familiar hot-button teen issues as suicide, drugs, drinking and random sex, but from the coolly observational perspective of a curious artist rather than from a hormonal or sociological point of view; creatively, it’s almost the polar opposite of something deliberately confronting and self-consciously provocative like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. Commercial prospects are modest but it’s a very creditable first feature.
Gia Coppola proves to have quite the eye, if not quite the natural storytelling instinct of her cinematic kin, serving up a remarkably assured feature debut with “Palo Alto.” Drawn from James Franco’s short-story collection, which consists mostly of driving drunk, smoking weed and deflowering virgins, this group portrait of disaffected Northern California teens goes to impressive lengths to develop the characters and shape their experience into something meaningful without ever quite cracking how its various vignettes should function as a whole. Coppola curiosity and the participation of name actors (including Franco) should earn this provocative effort a wider audience than your typical wasted-youth pics.
Though it lacks a cohesive means of fusing together its interlocking vignettes, "Palo Alto" effectively showcases the despair and sophomoric rebellion of teen life with a mature eye that clearly establishes a new filmmaker to watch.
The film overstays its welcome a touch and ultimately feels fairly disposable, simply due to how well-trodden the territory is. But it's still a strong and soulful debut from Coppola (whose aunt must be feeling a bit shown up—it's a much more textured and convincing take on the rich-youth-gone-wild tale than "The Bling Ring").
Coppola’s adaptation owns the humility of Franco’s short stories and coheres them into something significant – as fun as “Risky Business” and as sincere as “The Spectacular Now”, “Palo Alto” is one of the best movies ever made about high school life in America (admittedly a low bar), blurring the lines between how unique it is to be a teenager, and how universal it is to feel like one.