TIFF13: Palo Alto

Palo Alto, dir. Gia Coppola
September 7th, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

I can't say enough about the unique visual style, and the fantastic moody, yet energetic soundtrack of Palo Alto.  Making a film about teenagers and trying to keep the integrity of real teenage life is almost impossible, and often, the world we see onscreen has been tweaked and re-written so much that it fails to reflect anything real or relatable.

Being quite a fan of Robert Schwartzman and his music over the years, I was excited to hear that he would be working on the soundtrack (with Devonte Hynes) for his cousin Gia Coppola's directorial debut.  A year or so ago, Gia directed a music video for his solo project which I enjoyed, so seeing the two names together again definitely attracted me to this film.  Of course the fact that the screenplay was adapted from a series of novels by James Franco was also attractive, and definitely made me curious.  The novels are meant to explore the world Franco grew up in, and as he is such an interesting, strange personality, I wanted to delve in and see what he had written about. 

Palo Alto is at the same time isolated and archetypal.  The characters are extreme - at times hedonistic as teenagers often are - and at the same time they represent the real-life personalities that we meet in high school.  The atmosphere of the film reminded me of my own visit to a smaller California city, and the feeling that I was somewhere so expansive and open, and somehow also in a bubble.  This is the mood of Palo Alto.

Nothing about this film disappointed, as it had a very strong and unique visual style, being both gritty and realistic, as well as more abstract with emotional cuts and fragmental shots in someimportant heightened moments of the story.  As Jack Kilmer mentioned at the Q&A, he and some of the other cast members were just emerging from high school themselves, and the honest, naturalistic portrayals reflected this. 

Palo Alto was a trip back in time, but with a much better soundtrack.