Movie Review: “Palo Alto” – High School, The Movie

Written by Samah Ali June 18, 2014


After James Franco published his collection of short stories in the novel Palo Alto, fans eagerly anticipated the cinematic production of the high school tales. Gathering inspirations from his childhood and fan stories, Franco wrote the tales as a representation of the growing pains he experienced throughout his youth. The feature displayed teen angst at its finest by telling the stories of April (Emma Roberts), Teddy (Jack Kilmer), and Fred (Nat Wolff), a slight character change from the book. Touching on student-teacher relationships, hook ups, and bad influences, Gia Coppola and Franco teamed up to bring the realistic high school portrayal in “Palo Alto”.

Starting off the movie on an illicit note, April and her soccer coach, Mr. B (Franco), have an interesting relationship involving babysitting his son and a love affair. Although her female classmates encourage April to go for it, April reassures the girls that he is nothing but their coach and keeps her eyes on her crush, Teddy. In and out of trouble with the law, Teddy’s mischievous friend, Fred, brings him bad luck and a bad image. Meanwhile, Fred struggles to find a girl who likes his attempted “bad boy” personality and feels isolated by the school.


The film flicks between each story at accurate points, keeping the interest alive in each character. The three mains collide during awkward party scenes, creating great chemistry and character development. April tries to blend in and act as if nothing bothers her, Fred acts up to be seen among his peers, and Teddy questions his friendships and how it is impacting his life. The three dimensional characters allow the actors to express the teenage angst and self-discovery “Palo Alto” aims to achieve.

“Why do you always say I’m depressed?”

Coppola managed to capture the small town anxiety in an experimental fashion by featuring glimpses of the open space, empty streets, and quiet subdivisions. Throughout the wide shots of the school and soccer field, a brilliant score complimented the characters’ angst with silent rhythms and soothing vocals. The original music by Devonté Hynes (Blood Orange) and Robert Schwartzman (Princess Diaries, anyone?) set the perfect mood for the setting and relatable atmosphere.


However, the feature lacked a steady plot between the stories, yet the characters managed to grow in a timely fashion. Ending rather abruptly, the climax seemed to be at a party where most fights, opinions, and confessions came out. Bottles, and hearts, were broken as the characters released their emotions in a regrettably, drunken state, creating a climactic self-realization seen in each story. Although the film comes to a quick close, “Palo Alto” leaves you with a state of reflection and relation when thinking about the characters’ issues and keeps you wanting more.

“She wasn’t really a friend, just a girl.”

After setting the stage with the right cinematography, music, and ambiance, Coppola and Franco have produced the perfect replication of the high school experience. While being lost and jealous yet self-identifying, the character development ultimately covers the lack of plot and allows self-discovery to carry the film, ending on a gratifying note. The talented cast and Coppola’s directing have done the Palo Alto short stories justice and captured the raw emotions of the teen angst experience.

Rating: 7/10

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About Samah Ali

Samah Ali

With a deep admiration for film, television, and music, Samah spends most of her free time expressing and sharing her love for the arts. Studying Creative Writing at Western University, she enjoys writing about film & music and shapes her passions with the latest movie or album available.

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