Palo Alto Review

Posted: June 1, 2014 in Drama, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

still-of-val-kilmer-in-palo-alto-(2013)-large-pictureThe calendar shows June, and that’s way too early to declare a winner, but we certainly have a contender. When the list of worst films of 2014 is drawn up at the end of the year, save a spot on the short list for Palo Alto, a pretentious yet hollow selfie of a movie.

How bad is it? This film is the cinematic equivalent of finding a forgotten container in your refrigerator, opening it, and taking a whiff. Man, it stinks – here, smell it.

Val Kilmer, looking like he’s in the late-stage Marlon “Beached Whale” Brando portion of his career, appears in only two scenes, and there is no rational explanation for his being in the movie at all. One can only surmise that he heard there were donuts and wandered onto the set and in front of a rolling camera by mistake.

And he’s the best part of the film.

Ostensibly, he is Emma Roberts’s stepfather, and his presence in the house would explain her anorexic appearance since it’s doubtful that you could find a spare sandwich with a bathrobe-clad Val Kilmer setting up shop in your kitchen. Roberts plays high school student April with the same petulant look on her face that she held for an entire season of American Horror Story. April is more or less at the center of the story, which is an anecdotal look at high school in the California city of the film’s title.

April is crushing on Teddy (Jack Kilmer – surprising that his father Val didn’t eat him when he was younger), a sweet, clueless kid, who actually looks like he might still be in high school, unlike Roberts. Teddy’s best friend is Fred (Nat Wolff). Fred is the the loose cannon, the rebellious youth – you know, the pain in the ass. As bad as everything is around him, Wolff sinks below it, tapping into a vein of awfulness that results in a grating performance delivered without respite over the course of the entire movie.

And yet, he might not the be worst part of the entire fiasco.

James Franco’s double-hatted turn as author and actor merits special disdain. Franco gives us two more reasons to hate him, and society does not need another reason to hate James Franco. He has provided so many already. He does this on such a regular basis and so effectively, that it would seem deliberate, except that he gives no indication that he possesses the requisite self-awareness to deliver meaningful performance art.

Franco wrote the short stories on which the screenplay is based and plays Mr. B, April’s soccer coach, who lusts after her in an open enough manner that he would not be allowed within 500 feet of a public school in the real world. It’s like Kevin Spacey’s feelings for his daughter’s friend in American Beauty, if you took all the intelligence, emotion, and care out of that film’s screenplay while simultaneously stripping out all the considerable talent from Spacey. Yeah, just like American Beauty.

Given that Roberts fully looks 24 (her real age), the onscreen portrayal of this perversion is not as creepy as one might imagine (or as disturbing as the filmmakers might have been aiming for). What is creepy is the dialogue and the terrible performances. Gia Coppola is credited as director and screenwriter, but the entire effort comes across as nothing more than a bad, boring, melodramatic version of This Is The End, without the redeeming presence of Emma Watson in crazed survivalist mode. Ironically, the only actor that maintains her dignity and turns in a notably good (as opposed to strikingly bad) performance is the one playing Emily, the class whore. Kudos to Zoe Levin. Beyond Levin, there is nothing here other than narcissism and nepotism.

The movie starts with a car being deliberately crashed into a wall a few feet ahead of where the vehicle is parked. Imagine that occurring over and over again for 100 minutes of your life, and you have an inkling of watching Palo Alto.

Half a star.

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