Based on several original stories by James Franco, Palo Alto is a debut feature film written and directed by Gia Coppola. The coming-of-age teenage movie is meant to be different; the timeless story was written to be truly felt, not analyzed or retold by someone older and wiser, but re-envisioned through the eyes of real teenagers. With the exception of Emma Roberts (April), James Franco (Mr. B.), and Val Kilmer (Stewart) – who made a hilarious cameo appearance in the first part of the film – the cast consists of relatively unknown but exceptionally gifted young actors, all due to Coppola’s drive for authenticity. To achieve this “real” feeling in the film, Coppola didn’t want “acted” performance by trained teenage actors, but rather preferred them to be “played” by real kids.

From the opening scene to the end, the movie is beautifully shot and meticulously executed; you can’t help but to be taken with shy and sensitive April, following her through the maze of firsts: her first crush, first kiss, and her first love affair. Whether achieved by the means of hand-held camera or through clever use of soft lighting, the dreamlike scene sequence provides a glimpse into the lives of four adolescents. There are funny moments, awkward silence, tense dialogue and an overwhelming feeling of hope. “I wanted Palo Alto to feel both modern and timeless,” says Coppola, and she definitely made it relatable to most.


Scrupulous in her cinematic approach, the young filmmaker spent countless hours in the rehearsals, bonding with the cast, striving for the most natural delivery. In order for pictorial experience to ring true, every detail had to feel authentic. “You can understand a character through her surrounding,” explains Coppola, and she paid attention to the littlest of details to convey the right feeling. From meticulously decorated girls’ bedrooms – Coppola provided her own unchanged childhood bedroom to shoot scenes with April – to wardrobe inspired by teenagers’ Instagram feeds, every element played a necessary part.

The film received its R rating due to sexual content and pervasive language, but the feeling of softness never left the screen. During April’s precarious sex scene, the camera jumps from the face to the necklace, grasping a quiet sigh, merely hinting at what is happening, choosing instead to emphasize on what it means. With this poetic sensibility, Coppola uncovers emotional, psychological intricacies of what every teenager has gone through in the past or will go through in the future. The film feels real, touching and profoundly vivid, encompassing day-to-day realities of teenagers’ lives and exposing that “in between” feeling of entering the adult world and saying goodbye to childhood. This highly sensitive and poignant work from the first-time filmmaker clearly points out that cinematic talent runs deep in the Coppola family.


In Select Theaters on Friday, May 9th

Nu-Mode´ Coverage Irina Romashevskaya