Palo Alto's plot is very basic to summarise. It simply tells the story of three drug partaking high-schoolers, all living in Palo Alto. The first, April (Emma Roberts), is a virgin. She's having trouble deciding if she wishes to go after her soccer coach, Mr. B (James Franco) or if she wants to make a move on her crush, Teddy (Jack Kilmer). Teddy is a stoner who's facing trouble with the law, and trying to redeem himself. He's also best friends with Fred (Nat Wolff), a sort of sociopath who's behaviour is reckless. Familiar? Occasionally. Brilliant? Undeniably.
Palo Alto is a very deep movie. On the outer layer, it's simply just another high school movie, with a few exceptions of course. But when looked into or analysed, the film becomes almost something else entirely. It's a dark and confronting tale about high school life in America. One that's written to near perfection and absolute realism. At times, Palo Alto can be disturbing. Not because of the imagery, but because of the characters. The things they do. The things they say. The way they behave. These characters are so fleshed out and thought through. They're all troubled individuals, but they try their best to move on from those aspects of their lives so they can live a normal life.
Gia Coppola presents us with a powerful debut. Gia Coppola proves once again that the Coppola household know their stuff. One could say that, after the success of both her grandfather and her aunt, she had a lot to live up to. Which she does. She delivers a much needed twist to these three classic stories, in a way that almost makes us feel as if we haven't seen them before. She delivers powerful messages through her frequently unique way of storytelling, perfectly sensual soundtrack and glorious cinematography.
The performances are consistently great, but they all failed to meet the likes of Nat Wolff. None of the characters ever feel like characters on a screen. They constantly feel like real people, which is thanks to both the screenplay and the performances. While I found newcomer Jack Kilmer to occasionally fall flat, and James Franco, perhaps, gets a little too much screen time than he needs, the cast deliver. Nat Wolff steals every scene he's in. Although I couldn't find much to relate to with his character, he certainly feels like the one with the most depth, and his performance is glorious.
To sum up, Palo Alto overcomes its familiar storyline with a frequently unique way of telling this story, a perfectly sensual soundtrack, glorious cinematography, powerful direction and constantly great performances.