James Franco stories form core of 'Palo Alto'

Posted: May 16, 2014

THE MONSTERS smashing San Francisco in "Godzilla" may be too late in the view of "Palo Alto," a teen-POV profile of a community wrecked from within.

In this movie, lax and/or abusive parenting has created a listless generation of teens adrift and unsupervised, stumbling in some cases toward grace, but mostly stumbling.

To which the parents of Palo Alto may well ask: Says who?

Says James Franco, who grew up there, and wrote a series of semiautobiographical short stories about his formative years, woven together here by Gia Coppola, third-generation director from the family of film and winemakers.

Coppola is Hollywood royalty, and perhaps is the right socioeconomic choice to shape this material, which has a documentarian's view of the the characters' casually privileged circumstances.

Perhaps now is not the most opportune time to look for drama in the stories of wealthy children in search of their next thrill or high, but Coppola gives it a go, and tries to make us feel something for these vulnerable-in-their-own-way kids.

They do a dangerous amount of partying, which leads to high-risk behavior - some destructive, some self-destructive, some a bit of both.

Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is a purportedly talented graphic artist who spends too much time with bad-influence best friend Fred (Nat Wolff), whose dangerously angry behavior seems to stem from a fraught relationship with his father Mitch (Chris Messina) - one of several troublesome adults in the movie. Another is played by Franco, a soccer coach preying sexually on one of his students (Emma Roberts).

Coppola eventually zeroes in on one of the insights in Franco's stories - that some teens will survive and succeed in spite of themselves, or their crappy parents. That's true, but it makes for passive protagonists, and the movie itself evaporates when it's over like bong smoke.

Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

Online: ph.ly/Movies

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