Monday, June 16, 2014
Review: PALO ALTO
Teddy, blonde and cherubic has a limited talent as an artist but at least he uses it. He makes his own trouble but is aware of it. His best friend Fred is a barely controlled miasma of boredom and anger who would get anything he wanted if he wanted anything. His harvesting of pranks, thrills and backyard blowjobs only seems to lead him back to powerlessness and anger. April has a crush on her soccer coach (the ubiquitous and irresistible James Franco) and he has a crush on her and her babysitting nights with his son flick the intimacy meter needle toward danger. That kind of thing.
This film's narrative fashions an arc from a group of short stories that blend seamlessly enough to feel like one, if the creative writing class threads can be a little bare. A light motif about reversing one cigarette out of a new pack as a lucky one is used like a homework assignment (find a folky habit and use it to bring two characters together). Other moments play like character keynote exercises. Perhaps there are a few too many scenes which clog rather than widen the flow (the friend's stoned dad coming on to Teddy) by diverting from the already fragile central weave about the teens. While the grownup world is kept at arm's length there is enough of it shown from an adolescent point of view to emphasise authority here and light-on care there. When we are sitting among the teens at their slobbering, crapulent parties, wincing at their doughy morality or waiting listlessly with them as they sit and stare into the surrounding inertia.
Most of the setups here are medium or close, intimate. The wide or long shots are used conventionally for scene establishment. However, this film does not come across as form-chasing as the short stories for beginners mentioned o'erhead. If anything, the approach reminded me more of Gus Van Sant's Elephant than Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Both of those are worthy entries in the teen genre but the former feels more of a model here for the admission it encourages of a lighter touch. Light is what you get here but, as it's Bloomsday at the moment I'll pun, light is what's needed to see what depth there is, and there is.
Is it too neatly wrapped at the end? Maybe. But maybe that is in tribute to the short fiction at its source. But there is a moment of pure cinema that I wish had been held longer. A character is driving against the traffic at night. Cars are swerving to avoid a collision. Apart from the clean analogy of the best defence against forces of chaos there is such a beautiful and gripping motion to it, a kind of weightless choreography that would be mesmerising ... if it were just a few seconds longer. Anyway.... whatever, dudettes.
The stream of Coppola's that sprang in the 70s with Francis and some monumental cinema is, like the poor, trickles still. And for all the Jason Schwatrzmans and Nick Cages there are Sophias. And for all of Sophia's formless Somewheres there are the stronger fabric of a Marie Antoinette or a Bling Ring. Now there's a Gia. I saw this film as a surprise given me by friends for my birthday. I saw the credits only at the end. Oh .... that's what it was chosen.
I had refused to put my specs on to read the title on the ticket given me and my friends honoured my wish to carry the surprise to the credits. I'm glad all that happened. Knowing the Coppola brand attached might have weighted my perception unfairly toward or from but the merits and drawbacks stood and it was with a smile that I saw the name come up. It didn't have to be good bad or indifferent but I happily recorded it as a curate's egg with a few genuinely impressive cinematic moments which the name sealed. Apocalypse no. But neither a retrod Heathers or Mean Girls. Most hauntingly, there is the solid empathy with a recently lived adolescence and a clear commitment to put it on screen. Next one, please.