Famous progeny fail to distinguish themselves in ‘Palo Alto’

Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric and niece of Julia, leads a cast of other famous kids through Palo Alto.
Mike D'Angelo

Two and a half stars

Palo Alto Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff. Directed by Gia Coppola. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Two unstoppable forces—the Coppola family and James Franco—team up for the wispy high-school drama Palo Alto, adapted from Franco’s collection of short stories and directed by Gia Coppola, the 27-year-old granddaughter of Francis Ford (and niece of Sofia, and whatever that makes her to Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman, etc.). Franco also appears as a girls’ soccer coach who inappropriately hits on one of his players, April (Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric and niece of Julia), but the film is primarily about April and a few other mildly lost kids, including Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), who gets assigned to community service following a hit-and-run accident, and Fred (Nat Wolff, son of Thirtysomething star Polly Draper), Teddy’s loose-cannon best friend.

Maybe it’s because everyone except Franco, who was born in Palo Alto, hails from Hollywood, but the movie rarely feels authentic, offering up a generic suburbia populated by walking clichés: the overly sensitive dreamer, the opportunistic lecher, the secretly insecure party animal. If Franco has talent as a prose stylist, it doesn’t translate to the screen, and Coppola demonstrates little of her aunt Sofia’s gift for woozy atmospherics. Like the city itself, which is best known for being home to Stanford University, Palo Alto doesn’t make much of an impression.

  • The story’s told from the nostalgic perspective of a teenager discovering his sexuality and experiencing his first love.

  • Only toward the end does director Paul Thomas Anderson’s long game finally become apparent.

  • The bravery of the real soldiers is buried under a mountain of hokey sentiment and rah-rah bluster.

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