Saturday, May 17, 2014

Palo Alto [2013]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars w. Expl.)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Olsen) review
RE.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) revie

Palo Alto [2013] (screenplay and directed by Gia Coppola (yes she's the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola's niece) based on a collection of short stories by James Franco [IMDb]) doesn't paint a pretty picture of upper-middle class suburban life in Silicon Valley's Palo Alto.

Palo Alto may be the site of Stanford University, the birthplace of Apple, Inc, the current headquarters to Hewlett Packard and apparently Skype, and such legendary high tech firms as Sun Microsystems, Logitech, Google, Paypal and Facebook, all have called it "home" at some point.  Yet, believe it or not (and on reflection ... and transporting myself back to a mindset of a middle/upper-middle class American teenager ... I _do_ believe it) this is all "grown-up history."  To the "eyes rolling" teenage children of, perhaps, Silicon Valley geniuses (or at least of those who keep Silicon Valley humming with one new gadget or "app" after another) Palo Alto is apparently just another "pretty boring" and perhaps even _soulless_ place.

And really, again, _on reflection_ why should one be surprised?  The "genius parents" are either at work or otherwise "not present" (as they try to come-up with and then bring-into being that "new indispensable gadget or app" that none of us, or even the parents' competitors, had ever even thought up yet) while their kids deal with the anxieties and day-to-day "mundanities" of teenage high school life, even as they face, at least on some level, the Über-Anxiety that they will probably never, ever, ever be as gifted, successful (or even as lucky) as their parents.  Indeed, gets the sense that director Gia Coppola, a third generation Copolla in the movie-making business, as well as any number of the other "pedigreed" members of the cast -- Emma Roberts, the niece of Julia Roberts, as well as Jack Kilmer, the son of Val Kilmer, play lead / key roles -- would know EXACTLY what the characters in the film were going through.

So this is perhaps the brilliant if rather depressing insight of the film and James Franco's short stories that inspired: While to the outside world Palo Alto may be "the cutting edge" (the avant garde of the world) and that perhaps the parents of the kids in this film / these stories live at this "cutting edge" and are the avant garde of the world, THEIR OWN KIDS are floundering in soulless, "petty bourgeoisie" existences that the avant garde Left has always ridiculed.  That is to say, to be Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg would probably be really really cool, but to be their teenage kids (and as far as I know, NONE OF THEM HAVE HAD ANY KIDS ... that they have admitted to ...) would still probably really, really suck.

And so the teenage kids of the Palo Alto of these tales flounder about, in one striking, gut-wrenching scene after another, mostly stoned, engaging in rather empty sexual activity and occasional acts of blind stupid vandalism and nihilism. 

In one scene at a party, a random high school girl/classmate takes Teddy (the character played by Jack Kilmer) upstairs to a bedroom to service him (not shown).  Mind you, neither of the two particularly like (or dislike) each other (He's definitely stoned, and she's rather drunk and apparently kinda known for giving the occasional < > when she "finds herself that way").  Teddy, in as much as he's reflective at all, seemed to like April (the character played by Emma Roberts).  But no matter, the random girl was present, and ... in the next scene, the random girl is shown gulping down some mouthwash she found in the bathroom next door, presumably to "wash away the taste from her mouth..."  Mission accomplished (for both) and in the meantime Teddy finds himself down the stairs to rejoin the party where, somewhat surprised, finds April somewhat irritated with him for having gone upstairs with the random girl in the first place.  Why?  What was the problem?  Even April can not seem to explain ...

But April has her own problems.  Her perpetually stoned but presumably genius "working from home" step-father "Stewart" (played by Val Kilmer) keeps "correcting" her homework to such a degree that she (and her teachers...) find it incomprehensible (and she gets accused of plagiarism later in the film...).  Meanwhile, her creepy / loser (proving perhaps more clearly in high tech Palo Alto, city of geniuses, than perhaps elsewhere the adage that "those who can't , teach") soccer coach "Mr. B" (played by James Franco), divorced, with a 8-10 year old son, starts "grooming her" in order to eventually sleep with her.  "I'd really prefer to go out with people my own age," she tries telling him as he becomes more and more obvious. "Why?  You're so much better than that," he answers.  Yuck.  But her own step-father's a different kind of a-hole / creep.  And her ma' "just wants to be her friend" ... sigh.

So folks, this is no Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet [1952-1966] or The Brady Bunch [1969-74].  I can't see myself recommending this film to teens, but rather TO PARENTS OF TEENS.  We adults HAVE BEEN TEENS.  We know (or can be reminded by a film like this) what it was like to be a teen.  PERHAPS by watching a film like this we can be challenged to be BETTER ADULTS / ROLE MODELS / PARENTS to the teens around us.  Because otherwise, this is one very, very depressing and hopeless film ...


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