Palo Alto (R) (100 min.) — A fairly auspicious debut for the latest addition to the Coppola movie dynasty, this time Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sofia. Gia Coppola's writing-directing debut shares the disaffected teenagers theme of the aunt's first film, The Virgin Suicides, in a scenario cobbled from James Franco's book of short stories.
Franco appears as Mr. B, a high school soccer coach and single father getting too close to one of his players, April (Emma Roberts), who babysits his son. April has a quiet crush on Teddy, a pleasant enough stoner played by newcomer Jack Kilmer, who at proper angles is the spitting image of his father Val Kilmer, showing equal promise at this stage. Teddy unwittingly nudges April toward Mr. B after his sexual encounter with her friend Emily (Zoe Levin), who thinks putting out to anyone — even Teddy's unstable pal Fred (Nat Wolff) — will make her popular.
That's a lot of adolescent drama, precariously connected so it always feels like the unrelated stories Franco wrote. Palo Alto isn't a grand tableau of teenage life but it gets details right, depicting a subculture of fairly privileged children posing as grownups before they're ready for the consequences. The movie basically hops from one spiked-punch bowl party to the next make-out session, but even that sameness says something about the lives Coppola describes.
The stories might work better separately as uninterrupted short films. Combined, they lack cohesion but suggest that Coppola has a fine framing eye and ability to guide actors to good work. Hollywood careers have been built on far less. B (Veterans 24 in Tampa)
Steve Persall, Times movie critic