Thursday, May 22, 2014

Attempting, Desperately, To Understand Palo Alto

Do you like to be depressed? Do you like watching modern angsty teens being depressed and making only bad decisions? If you said yes to either of these questions, you'll probably like Palo Alto.
And the weird thing is, I think I do... like this movie. Because for some reason it hit me over the head just enough to make my problems not feel so bad. Oh I was still depressed walking out of the theatre, but at least I felt like the movie was sort of holding my hand and saying "It's alright dude... this shit happens to everybody." To which I responded "I don't actually think that shit happens to everybody, but I sure am glad it isn't happening to me... so thanks for the reminder."

Palo Alto is a film based on a James Franco novel (??) based on some of his experiences having grown up in... Palo Alto. It rings of incredibly interesting half truths, all of which are interesting sheerly from a living legend perspective. But in the end, most of this feels like a much larger collection of people being skimmed down and combined to make one movie where we could connect with just a few. This is not a negative thing, just a great deal of this feels like hearsay rather than actual events from one person's life. Like, "Did you hear what happened to that girl over in West Glen? She had an affair with her teacher." or "I heard Johnny and Tray cut down a protected tree last week." "No way!" You know, stuff like that. But I might be wrong, maybe James Franco was a part of all of this in his own right. I just wonder where he fits in.

That being said, the movie does carry weight... moral and thematic. It moves and I never found myself getting bored. I was too busy getting angry at the characters' poor decision making to get bored. Palo Alto has a feeling to it. Both pessimistic and malevolently beautiful. And I'm not lying when I say only one positive thing happens in the entire movie and it's only positive because it escapes the most sinister and negative thing that happens in the movie. Cryptic, I know, but I guess for some reason I think I want more people to see this movie. So I wanna leave some mystery.
Jack Kilmer (Val's son) does an excellent job here. To me he kind of evokes a darker version of the kid from Almost Famous in a muuuch darker movie. Emma Roberts was borderline perfect as an awkward girl trying to get a sense of herself in a really messy world. Her relationships with her mother, her teacher, her guidance councilor, and her classmates all blend together in this weird hodgepodge mess of a young life. Though it's not without hope, she definitely has a way to go before she starts making good choices. Nat Wolff was fun to watch. He just kept on doing things. He couldn't control himself and that was kind of perfect for the role.
I also really liked Zoe Levin in this one. She had an energy that felt real and consistent. She seemed to not care, but then showed her wounds when it mattered most. And yes, James Franco shows up. He doesn't do a lot, but he's there. It's weird to see him in this older role when there's probably a version of himself written into the other younger characters.

There are a few non sequiturs, like a scene of weird narration that evokes an emotional response but doesn't actually connect back to anything we see on film... and well the ending of the film just kind of happens which I've become more and more okay with as the day has passed. But it is still weird to catch a movie doing this and not really being given a reason why.
Palo Alto is a thoroughly depressing and absolutely cathartic experience. But somehow it's not at all a bad movie. This is Gia Coppola's first writing/directing credit. So I'm hoping to see what else she has to offer in the future.

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