Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Palo Alto’ Review: Starring Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer & James Franco

Emma Roberts has become one of the most promising young actresses in Hollywood. She was fantastic earlier this year in Adult World, last year in We’re the Millers and even as Sydney Prescott’s deranged cousin in Scream 4. But in the past, Roberts has played a part in films that weren’t necessarily up to par with her acting talents (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Valentine’s Day, The Art of Getting By), but in first-time director Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto, the 23-year-old actress shines in a scintillating story based on the writings of James Franco.

Palo Alto tells the story of April (Emma Roberts), a virginal, but popular high school student, soccer player and friend to party girls Chrissy (Olivia Crocicchia) and Shauna (Claudia Levy). April also regularly babysits for her single dad coach Mr. B (James Franco), who is overly friendly with her, though she can’t tell if his intentions are purely flirtatious or if he wants more.

Meanwhile, sweet, introverted and frequent stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer) has been harboring his feeling for April, while his best friend and wild child Fred (Nat Golff) is pursuing wanton loner Emily (Zoe Levin). As April contemplates a relationship with Mr. B, she also struggles with the temptation to lose her virginity before graduation and also figuring out how she feels about Teddy.

palo alto james franco

Coppola’s screenplay is good at balancing our two female counterparts, while allowing most screen time for the pure April, and narrating the promiscuous adventures of her counterpart, Emily. Her film balances the two characters with expert direction and gorgeous cinematography, while taking a break to check in with Teddy and Fred.

Director Gia Coppola wrote the screenplay, which she based off of the short stories written by James Franco. Which makes me seriously wonder what Franco’s high school life was like. It wouldn’t be surprising if it were a lot like this. Teens having meaningless sex, smoking weed at parties every weekend and driving around carelessly never thinking about the consequences of their actions. Either way, Franco does have a gift for writing an intriguing story, while Coppola makes sense of it all as she constructs it into a screenplay.

Thanks to Emma Roberts’ committed performance and Coppola’s smart direction, Palo Alto is a keen look into teenage life and the growing pains involved in high school drama.

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