Palo Alto

  • Review Date: May 9, 2014
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Moody coming-of-age drama has sex, drinking, language.
  • Review Date: May 9, 2014
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Underneath the characters' iffy behavior and approach to life is the notion that eventually you have to listen to yourself when it comes to making decisions about your life. You can't always let your choices be guided by your peers.

Positive role models

Though April seems lost and insecure at times, she does eventually come to a point where she starts to recognize her value and make some healthy decisions for herself.

Violence

A boy has a car accident (while drunk) and drives away from the scene. Later, a different boy purposefully drives the wrong way on a highway. A girl smashes a bottle on a guy's head, drawing blood. A teen boy flashes a large kitchen knife and makes threats with it. Some talk of suicide, and at times the film has a menacing vibe.
 

Sex

A high school coach hits on and later seduces a student. She's shown stripping to her underwear but keeps her shirt on. A father makes an inappropriate and unwelcome pass at his son's best friend. A girl is shown alone with a boy, apparently about to perform a sex act (viewers don't see anything). A voice-over describes a situation in which a girl ends up having sex with multiple guys.

Language

Swearing in almost every scene, including many variations on "f--k," plus "s--t," "d--k," "ass," "bitch," "c--t," "p---y," and much more.

Consumerism

Some characters use Mac computers and iPhones.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teens smoke pot throughout the film, and many characters also smoke cigarettes. High school students drink beer and hard liquor at parties, often until they're quite wasted, and one gets into a car accident while drunk. Adults also drink beer and smoke pot and sometimes offer them to teens.

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.

Parents say

Kids say

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?

QUALITY
 

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.

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 -- and 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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 9, 2014
DVD release date: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

This review of Palo Alto was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 16 years old Written byfrench.cats February 20, 2015
AGE
14
QUALITY
 

Sad, beautiful, and true to life

A lot of smoking and drinking (and I do mean a lot), but overall a very enjoyable movie. It is brutally honest, unlike most modern teen movies: it stays true to the real hardships of high school and is not romanticized. Parents, be prepared to understand the truth behind the pretty lies that high school puts kids through (although don't worry, there are good things about high school too!)! And enjoy the (though briefly shown) romance!!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written byAdriana62 June 11, 2014
AGE
15
QUALITY
 

Great, intense

Can you fix the cast, it should say Nat Wolff not Alex Wolff.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 17 years old Written byB-KMastah May 24, 2014
AGE
16
QUALITY
 

A realistic, beautiful, sad, subtle, and strong movie about teen life.

I am now convinced that the Coppolas' talents are genetic. I have the most appreciation for films that find the odd beauty in sad and/or ordinary things, and like Sofia, Gia Coppola proves that she can do that super well. This movie is engaging the entire time thanks to how realistic it is, and the performances are great from everyone. I've always liked Emma Roberts but she definitely proves her own talent here, and everyone else - specifically Nat Wolff and Jack Kilmer - is solid as well. My favorite thing about this is probably its realism, which is so well executed. The kids are perfectly nuanced and their experiences and daily lives are so well realized, and that's where the direction comes into discussion. This seems super influenced by Harmony Korine's downbeat tone, specifically the film Kids, which he wrote. The structure is a lot like Kids and it works super well, and the style seems to be like Harmony Korine crossed with Sofia Coppola. Either way, the tone and feel of the movie is terrific and suits the material and performances perfectly. The characters are surprisingly well defined in their subtly, and combined with the acting, even the most despicable characters are given a range of sympathetic depth. The film is shot well and the music is good, but it feels like all of this falls under the direction. Gia Coppola is definitely one to watch out for, and it seems that she'll have a great career. 9/10, terrific, two thumbs up, far above average, etc.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

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