Palo Alto

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Palo Alto Movie Poster Image
Moody coming-of-age drama has sex, drinking, language.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 100 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAdriana62 June 11, 2014

Great, intense

Can you fix the cast, it should say Nat Wolff not Alex Wolff.
Teen, 17 years old Written byB-KMastah May 24, 2014

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, a... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byAriana453763 July 8, 2018

Just boringgg

It’s nit that intresting to watch you’ll get bored kinda

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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