Movie review: Teen anthology “Palo Alto” has character but not story

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From the June 5, 2014 edition

Youth is wasted on the young, and the young spend their time getting wasted.

When Gia Coppola’s debut film “Palo Alto” sets out to capture some of the meandering aimlessness of teenagehood, it succeeds. It’s a collection of some great moments, though they don’t add up to a particularly compelling story.

Based on a collection of short stories by James Franco (wut?), “Palo Alto” centers on April (Emma Roberts), a shy high school student who hangs out with friends who are a bit wilder and engages in a flirtation with her soccer coach (played by Franco).

Coppola — granddaughter of “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola — directs with an exceptional confidence for a first-timer (and she’s just 27), gorgeously documenting moments of teenage malaise.

While this is refreshingly not a typical cautionary tale of teenagers gone wild, the tales told never come into a clear enough focus. Coppola’s debut resembles the films of her famous aunt, Sofia (“Lost in Translation,” “Somewhere”), in this regard.

Roberts (niece of Julia, btw) is great in the lead, and “Palo Alto” is a promising start to Gia Coppola’s career, but its flaws keep it from transcending.