Palo Alto

Palo Alto
Directed by Gia Coppola
Starring Emma Roberts, James Franco and Val Kilmer
In US cinemas May 9th, 2014

by Joanna Orland
Reviewed at the 2013 Venice Film Festival

James Franco’s next career move after his collaboration with dead authors may just be his saving grace. After a disappointing presentation of Child of God and the cringe-worthy press conference that coincided, Palo Alto, the other James Franco film at the 70th Venice Film Festival, redeemed the actor/director/artist/author/ghost-whisperer and pleased the audience with a wonderful piece of cinema.

Produced by James Franco and his company Rabbit Bandini, based on his own novel of short stories, and of course featuring the man himself in a small role, Palo Alto was put in the hands of Gia Coppola as she wrote the screenplay and directed the film. Starring Emma Roberts and an array of teenage actors, the film tells the story of what it is for these young teens to grow up in Palo Alto, drink, drugs, sex, drama and all. There are also a few paedophilic overtones and plot points that are thrown into the mix, featuring actor Chris Messina who is in everything these days, and James Franco who is not only in everything but who is also everywhere. How nice to see he cast himself in the role of a paedo.

The teenage cast in this film is excellent. Very low key but true teen performances. Some of the adult cameos are also excellent, notably Val Kilmer as Emma Roberts’ character’s stepdad, a bloated, video game obsessed, pothead of a father figure. Coppola’s directorial style also works very well, using more abstract shots or voiceovers to detail the more explicit scenes without being graphic in its depiction. There is however a questionable narrated moment that left us a bit confused, but it was long forgotten once the character action came back into play.

This film is about the characters. It is engrossing, they are endearing. James Franco clearly has some substance to him, but it seems he needs a bit of a babysitter. Giving his work to someone else, whether it be his stories into the hands of a new screenwriter/director, or giving his performance to someone else’s film, he may not be all talk as our previous presumption. In spite of this new light being shed upon the career of James Franco, we couldn’t bear facing another press conference with him in full control of the microphone. Perhaps we missed some further insight into the odd mind of Franco?  Or perhaps it was a lucky escape.

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