PALO ALTO (Gia Coppola). 100 minutes. Opens Friday (June 6). See listing. Rating: NNN
Gia Coppola's Palo Alto is for the most part a gentle, thoughtful study of California teenagers struggling to define themselves by figuring out what they will and won't do.
Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric) and Jack Kilmer (son of Val) are the leads, April and Teddy, and while there's a charge to watching the children of famous actors play opposite one another, that's not really the point here. Writer/director Coppola is also descended from movie royalty, being the granddaughter of Francis, and she's working from a book of short stories by James Franco, who turns up as a soccer coach who's very supportive of Roberts's character. So, yeah, this could have been an all-star vanity deal.
It could have been, but it's not. Coppola seems genuinely interested in digging into the heads of her protagonists and in creating three-dimensional characters rather than sketching out a condemnation of kids today.
Well, except for whatever Nat Wolff's doing as Teddy's best pal, Fred, the most obnoxious ticking time bomb of repressed sexuality and random violence imaginable. Fred's such a caricature - and Wolff throws himself into the part with such enthusiasm - that every time he pops up, he turns Palo Alto into a very different movie, and a much less substantial one.