Moody coming-of-age drama has sex, drinking, language.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Palo Alto focuses on a group of disaffected high school students in a wealthy suburb who often engage in self-destructive behavior. There's near-constant swearing ("f--k," "s--t," and much more) and a lot of underage drug use (pot), smoking, and drinking (including drunk driving). Some of the kids also have casual sexual encounters. The adults in the film are seen mostly as poor examples for the kids, including a high school soccer coach who seems to prey on the girls on his team and a father who tries to come on to his son's best friend after plying him with marijuana. Though the film is about young people, the themes are quite adult, and it's too mature for younger viewers.
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What's the Story?
April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer) are high school students who clearly seem to like each other, but they're dragged in opposite directions in PALO ALTO. Teddy's best friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), repeatedly pulls them into destructive situations, while April becomes involved in an illicit romance with her soccer coach (James Franco). The film showcases the disjointed lives of teens in a wealthy suburb who have little (or aimless) adult guidance and are often forced to deal with grown-up situations before they're ready.
Is It Any Good?
The movie's biggest strengths are its actors, particularly Kilmer, who imbues Teddy with palpable empathy, never mind that the character isn't often sympathetic or likeable. Equally impressive is Roberts, who captures a vulnerability that strains against the jadedness that's encroaching upon April. Their performances elevate the film from a standard-issue coming-of-age story into something that feels both tragic and true, though it's sometimes myopic to a fault. (Teddy's friend, Fred, also veers into caricature of the whacked-out, on-edge teen, though Wolff does the best he can with the one-note role.) The parents don't come off well in this movie; with the exception of one, they're not particularly malicious, but they are disengaged and unaware, a potent combination. But ultimately, the stories here aren't theirs.
Based on the novel of the same name by Franco, director Gia Coppola's debut -- she's the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and the niece of Sofia Coppola -- is a mesmerizing look at the lives of high school teens in Palo Alto, Calif., during that thrilling, confusing, and sometimes overwhelming purgatory that is the years before adulthood. Coppola weaves two distinct storylines -- April's and Teddy's -- seamlessly, peopling them with sadly familiar characters and having them connect at places where a basic yearning is shared: the need for ballast and coherence.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the way that teens are portrayed in Palo Alto. Do they seem realistic? Do their choices and actions seem believable?
How does the movie depict drinking, drug use, smoking, and sex among teens? Are there consequences for any of their risky behavior?
What kind of example do the adult characters set for the young people? Are any of them positive role models?
- In theaters: May 9, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: September 9, 2014
- Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Alex Wolff
- Director: Gia Coppola
- Studio: Tribeca Productions
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and pervasive language - all involving teens
- Last updated: December 22, 2022
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