REVIEW: Palo Alto

26 08 2014

Palo AltoAt a high school party indistinguishable from any other, Emma Roberts’ April has a conversation of unusual candor with Jack Kilmer’s Teddy.  Though she acts confidently in front of others, putting on airs to impress her peers and returning volleys from flirtatious soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco), she’s sheepish and restless.  He, on the other hand, is a misunderstood rebel drifting from disaster to disaster but somehow retains an impeccable sense of self-worth.

All the stars appear to be aligning for them to take their connection to the next level; however, a communication breakdown as well as a few stray glances lead to misinterpreted gestures.  This party at the beginning of “Palo Alto” sets April and Teddy on separate courses, each taking them increasingly further away from converting the potential energy from that evening into a kinetic spark.

They wander aimlessly towards dissatisfaction and frustration, but they do so with an eerie sense of knowledge that each further step is to their deteriment.  April and Teddy are not quite sure what they seek, though it seems impossible to attain.  This indescribable yet palpable disparity between reach and grasp that makes “Palo Alto” such a searing film about being lost in the mess that is high school.

Though it’s tempting to write off these feelings as “teen angst,” first-time director Gia Coppola treats April and Teddy’s self-estrangement as a very adult matter.  With such a seriousness, “Palo Alto” comes off as a film more in the mold of domestic drama “Little Children” than YA weepie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”  Coppola treats the longing glances of high school students with empathetic solidarity, not with derision or patronization.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (October 15, 2010)

15 10 2010

While my struggles to choose this “F.I.L.M. of the Week” were documented in today’s factoid, I finally found a perfectly acceptable movie to feature here: Shane Black’s noir sendup “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”  Starring a pre-anointed Hollywood savior Robert Downey Jr. and a post-Batman Val Kilmer, the movie is a hilarious and thrilling story of murder, intrigue, betrayal, and cinema.  (And, as Downey’s character reminds us, ultimately a tale of friendship.)

The very meta movie works largely in part to Downey’s irresistible narration.  A part of the events yet telling them from afar, his perspective is certainly a strange one.  At times, he is omniscient; at others, limited.  Yet almost all the time, he’s a bumbling genius flying by the seat of his pants through a set of unforeseeable events.  After robbing a game store, his Harry runs unknowingly into a casting session for a role that is eerily reminiscent of the events of his law-breaking night.  Taken for an incredible method actor, the producers claim him to be their “big discovery” and fly him out to Hollywood for the next round of preparations.

Once in Hollywood, Harry deals with culture shock at a party, a little unsure of how to act around California socialites.  However, he reunites with his high-school sweetheart Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) unexpectedly and a romance begins to bloom.  Taking him for a detective, not an actor (which he also is not), she involves him in the investigation of her sister’s curious death.  Harry, along with actual investigator Perry van Shrike (Kilmer), probe deeper and find themselves entangled in a web involving two murders and some very scary connections.

While the plot may get a little confusing at times, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is incredibly entertaining because of its clever blend of humor and mystery.   The performances from Downey and Kilmer are dynamic and light up the screen.  The plot is intelligent, and the fresh narrative style makes the somewhat hackneyed plot very fun to watch again.