Venice Film Festival 2013. Review of “Palo Alto” by Gia Coppola

The name “Palo Alto” has been generating a lot of buzz lately in the festival circuit, both because it is the title of James Franco’s bestselling short stories book and because it is the title of Gia Coppola’s debut feature, competing in the Orizzonti section.

Following the lives of a bunch of Palo Alto teenagers, it is the portrait of a new lost generation of kids: the IPhone generation. It may have a romantic ring to it but the concept that the film portrays bears no romance at all. And it isn’t an entirely new concept either. Palo Alto is a raw, accurate and universal representation of today’s wasted youth. Indeed, the “lost” teenagers from Palo Alto are no different from any other average teenagers in the world. They drive drunk, smoke weed and deflower virgins. Nothing new. Nevertheless, this film strives to capture the truth of these teens’ experience, depicting accurately the occasional racism, misogyny and self-destruction that inevitably come with the package of growing up and manages to sensibly convey the innocence there are truly yearning for.

The film bears many similarities style wise with the films of Sofia Coppola, heavily drawing its inspiration from her The Virgin Suicides and lingering on peripheral details. And naturally, this comes as no surprise. Moreover, there is a strong emphasis on the cinematography that comes from Gia Coppola’s background in photography. This is especially visible in the beautiful and poetic shots of faces during sex scenes thanks to Autumn Durald’s dreamlike lensing.

The film starts very dynamically with a drunken conversation scene in a car followed immediately by the title accompanied by compelling music, thus establishing an energetic pace. However, in spite of its short running time, at times it feels overlong but never spirals into tediousness. The film goes to great lengths to give more significance and a deeper layer to its characters but also strives to give a moral lesson without, however, taking a patronizing tone or indulging in preaching. Gia Coppola also manages to cover a wide range of emotions, ranging from fun to horror and conveys them perfectly to the audience.

As far as the acting is concerned, she manages to bring out the best in her cast. Emma Roberts, the newbie Jack Kilmer (son of the legendary Val Kilmer) and veteran James Franco all render equally great performances in their respective roles.

Palo Alto doesn’t seem to be anything new but it does it with a personal, sincere and confident style and this should be praised indeed. I am curious to see where Gia Coppola will go from here and in which character the biggest chunk of Franco is hidden.



Production: RabbitBandini Productions (USA 2013). Producers: Vince Jolivette and Miles Levy. Line producers: Sebastian Pardo and Adriana Rotaru. Director: Gia Coppola. Screenplay: Gia Coppola based on the novel Palo Alto Stories by James Franco. Photography: Autumn Durald. Music:Devonté Hynes and Robert Schwartzman. Production Design: Sara Beckum Jamieson. Costume designCourtney Hoffman. Editing: Leo Scott.

Cast: Jack Kilmer (Teddy), Emma Roberts (April), James Franco (Mr. B.), Val Kilmer (Stewart), Chris Messina (Mitch), Nat Wolff (Fred), Olivia Crocicchia (Chrissy), Claudia Levy (Shauna), Jacqui Getty (Jane), Andrew Lutheran (Ivan), Bo Mitchell (Jack O), Bailey Coppola (Seth), Zoe Levin (Emily), Brennen Taylor (Luke), Colleen Camp (Sally), Timothy Starks (Police Officer), Micah Nelson (Michael), Janet Jones (Sherry), Emma Gretzky (Emma), Don Novello (Mr. Wilson), Laney Fichera (Judy), Nathalie Love (Joy), Christian Madsen (Anthony), Sandra Seacat (Tanya), Janet Song (Mrs. Stevenson), Talia Shire (Mrs. Ganem), Margaret Qualley (Raquel), Amelia Burstyn (Mary), Keegan Allen (Skull)

Color – 100 min. Premiere: 1-IX-2013 (Venice Film Festival)


This film was reviewed at the 2013 Venice Film Festival. 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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