May 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Palo Alto' stylishly looks at teens making poor decisions

James Franco plays a soccer coach hitting on one of his players, April (Emma Roberts), in 'Palo Alto.' (Tribeca Film)

A beautifully textured, well-acted wisp of a film, “Palo Alto,” finds writer-director Gia Coppola following, perhaps too closely but still effectively, in the footsteps of her aunt, writer-director Sofia Coppola.

Sofia has spent her career — “Lost in Translation,” “Somewhere,” “Marie Antoinette” — studying the troubles of the privileged and bored. And so Gia’s first film, based on a collection of James Franco short stories, looks in on spoiled, confused teens in a pricey Northern California suburb.

In many ways this is a wasted-youth movie — watch as high schoolers drink far too much, smoke pot, have casual sex and nurture their nicotine addictions. Check out the irresponsible, self-involved parents. Revisit all the awkwardness of teenage life.

But Coppola has an eye for fine details and a nice sense of rhythm. She also has a knowing star in Emma Roberts, as well as a bright newcomer in Jack Kilmer (son of Val, who has a small part in the film).

Roberts plays April, a soccer-playing virgin attracted to moderate bad boy Teddy (Jack Kilmer). But neither of them has the gumption to directly approach the other, so they circle for most of the film, making bad decisions with others.

Teddy’s bad decisions mostly come from his relationship with the damaged Fred (Nat Wolff), one of those crazy kids who just may actually be crazy. Fred takes regular advantage of Emily (Zoe Levin), who mistakes promiscuity for friendship.

April, meanwhile, is being hit on by her soccer coach, Mr. B (Franco), while she babysits his son. Nothing good can come of this, but then nothing good seems to be coming of anything in this world of over-indulgence, indifference and lashing out.

That Coppola finds occasional grace and spirit here shows understanding and compassion. Her next assignment? Make a movie that’s not about the troubles of the privileged and bored.

'Palo Alto'

GRADE: B-

Rated R for strong sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and pervasive language — all involving teens

Running time: 100 minutes

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