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Palo Alto (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 98 minutes.

Not for children.

The Coppola women seem to have a fetish for slow movies filled with lots of shots of people thinking. Gia Coppola, in her directorial debut (she also wrote the script based on several stories by James Franco, who also appears as a charming but corrupt soccer coach), is not unlike her aunt Sofia in making a film that at first appearances makes one feel lost in a Terence Malick-inspired miasma.

This is a film about teenager angst that makes one worry if all todayís teens are like these, not an appealing prospect. While the film is slow, it is not uninvolving. In fact, the way Coppola directs, the film has a compelling feeling of tragedy. One keeps thinking that something terrible is about to happen.

The acting is very good, highlighted by an award-quality performance by Emma Roberts as the teen that Franco tries to seduce. Because all the teens are really teenagers (or close to it, anyway; Roberts is a youthful 22, others are younger), the age discrepancy between Franco (who is 36) and Roberts is so apparent that it makes the attempted seduction truly creepy, which is the way it is in real life. This makes it unlike a mature 30 year old Felicity Jones playing an 18 year old in an age-inappropriate relationship with Guy Pearce (46) in the otherwise excellent Breathe In. Also effective are Jack Kilmer (the son of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whaley) as a confused teen, and Nat Wolff (19) as Kilmerís disturbing friend. Equally believable is Zoe Levin as a girl who tries to get acceptance through promiscuity.

While the movie seems to be extraordinarily slow (I wasnít the only one in the audience who kept looking at his watch), I canít write it off because there is a continuing tension throughout that keeps one interested to see what is going to happen. To me, off of this, Gia looks like a real comer as a director.

May 5, 2014