As the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece of Sofia Coppola, Palo Alto writer-director Gia Coppola has quite a bit to live up to. Palo Alto, based on James Franco's collection of short stories (a near vomit-inducing statement), seems to be trying its hardest to come across with the same level of profundity as something Sofia Coppola--or even Roman Coppola for that matter--would direct, yet doesn't quite hit the mark. Granted, Gia Coppola is 27 years old and this is her first film, and she has to deal with adapting some questionable source material.
As usual, the basis for teenage life in California is drinking, driving and disaffection. Teddy (played by newcomer Jack Kilmer) is an outsider trying his best to fit in by hanging out with your typical "bad influence," Fred (Nat Wolff). Fred's main interests are destruction and smoking various substances. The sole source of light in Teddy's somewhat grim life is April (Emma Roberts), an equally as disillusioned high schooler who is better at masking her lost nature. To distract herself, she plays soccer after school on a team coached by the overtly creepy "Mr. B" (obviously played by James Franco). Although April has a mild attraction to Teddy, her insecurity is preyed on when she sees him go upstairs at a party with a blow job slut named Emily (Zoe Levin). Thus, she is drawn to Mr. B, and the two begin to have an affair that's as believable and passionate as Liza Minnelli and David Gest's.
In the meantime, Teddy deals with the consequences of getting in a drunk driving accident and does his best to keep his head down while performing the requisite amount of community service. Out of all the characters in this frequently flimsy film (though the music is amazing--the Coppola family always has a knack for that), Teddy is the most three-dimensional. Though you would think it would be April, it's actually Teddy's arc that makes the story slightly worthwhile. His realization that time-wasting isn't as chic as teenage existence makes it out to be is one of the most interesting elements in Palo Alto.
The attempt at making Palo Alto--already filled with concepts and characters that come off like cheap imitations of Bret Easton Ellis' novels and film adaptations--appear to have any grand meaning is useless. There isn't one, and maybe that's supposed to be an intentional mirror of adolescence itself. All one can really say is that growing up California certainly doesn't help make the search for identity much easier. Just a lot more numbing with all the available drugs.