Teenage Wasteland: Gia Coppola’s Directorial Debut Examines Adolescent Ennui

James Franco and Emma Roberts in Palo Alto.

James Franco and Emma Roberts in Palo Alto.

Cobbled from a book of autobiographical short stories by ubiquitous polymath James Franco about his California hometown, Palo Alto was directed by Francis Ford Coppola’s 27-year-old granddaughter, Gia Coppola. They should all have stayed in bed. Mr. Franco must have had a very boring adolescence, because Palo Alto is a very boring movie.

Palo Alto ★
(1/4 stars)

Written by: Gia Coppola
Directed by:
Gia Coppola
Starring: James Franco, Emma Roberts and Val Kilmer
Running time: 100 min.

Among the botched snippets of characterization, some of the people we meet without asking are two moronic teens named Fred and Teddy who sit in a parked car, ramble incoherently about “that Aristotle shit,” and drive the car into a concrete wall. Fred (Nat Wolff) is a violent, destructive psycho and Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val, who has two scenes as a mumbling, incomprehensible slob who may or may not be a stoned teacher) hangs out with him because he has nothing else to do. They are sometimes joined by April (Emma Roberts), a babysitter for the school’s soccer coach. Mr. Franco plays the coach, who seduces April. 

The town seems to be populated only by kids seeking cheap thrills who are drunks, drug addicts, hit-and-run drivers and fellatio experts. Fred drinks fermented water out of flower vases. Sometimes his friends insult police officers and bully and threaten each other on their blogs. All of them are lost, disoriented, unfocused and worthless exponents of teenage nihilism headed for death. In the end, Fred is driving at top speed down the wrong side of the freeway clutching a butcher knife.

Ms. Coppola is the latest in a line of family filmmakers who have learned nothing from their patriarch. She shows teenagers as shallow, suicidal, sex-obsessed zombies without purpose or impact. The movie is as aimless and confused as they are.