If there is any hopeful message to be gotten from the depressing new teen-age film, “Palo Alto,” it is this. Good kids can somehow emerge safely from even the worst environments. A few of them anyway.
Teddy and April are sensitive and intelligent high schoolers who are swept up in the crazy world of their peers. Sex, drugs, alcohol, despair and disrespect for everything including themselves, they reluctantly join this orgy of affluent white kids out of control.
Palo Alto, the California city by the Bay, symbolizes the best of opportunity for our children. A land of sudden high-tech millionaires in Silicon Valley, Good schools and facilities. Home to Stanford University, the so-called Harvard of the West. And yet what a wasteland we see in this cynical film.
Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of the noted actor Val) is a budding artist, loved by his single-parent mother and increasingly in trouble with the law. Drunk, Teddy rams into another car and leaves the scene only to be arrested later and sentenced to long hours of community service. April (Emma Robbers) is a different story. Hers is less than an ideal homelife. Her mother is a distracted moron and her step-father (Val Kilmer) an addled marijuana abuser. April seeks respite in having sex with her high school soccer coach (James Franco).
If there is a devil among this tribe of heathens, it is Fred (Nat Wolff), a charismatic but emotionally disturbed friend of the low-key Teddy. The film’s climax concerns which way Teddy will turn: Toward Fred and self-destruction? Or toward April and love?
While “Palo Alto” is a nicely done film directed by Gia Coppola, it will take a great amount of patience for adults to endure. Most adults have been there or at least observed such misbehavior as teens and parents. Hopefully, some will even see themselves as the root of the problem. Absentee and self-obsessed parents, physically and emotionally unable to engage their young.
The scary part of the film is envisioning America’s future. If “Palo Alto” truly depicts this country’s next wave of well-heeled parents and leaders, even bleaker times lie ahead.