★★★★ | Palo Alto

The directorial debut of Gia Coppola, Palo Alto is an exploration of high school teenagers experimentations with sex, drugs, and alcohol, and it’s an impressive debut.

Coppola, the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece of Sofia Coppola and Nicholas Cage, turns James Franco’s book of the same name into a gritty yet honest movie of a bunch of teenagers in a Palo Alto, California High School. Franco’s book was a series of stories, and Coppola’s film links them up beautifully to create a film that flows, with characters who we could all relate to.

April (an amazing Emma Roberts) is the class virgin. April’s popular amongst her peers and is a star soccer player. She is also being chased by her creepy soccer coach Mr B., whom she babysits for (Franco, in one of his best roles in years). But Mr B. just doesn’t like April, he also ‘likes’ other girls at the school – he’s a paedophile.

Meanwhile, Teddy (Jack Kilmer), and Fred (Nat Wolff) are the best of friends, yet it’s Fred unpredictable behaviour that at times becomes explosive and dangerous. And Teddy has a huge crush on April, and he is unaware of her relationship with Mr B.

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Zoe Levin plays Emily. She’s basically the school slut and sleeps with Fred. Teddy, taking a page from Fred’s book, is caught drunk driving and has to perform community service, in a library where Fred visits and proceeds to deface a book. Throw in a mix of more parties and more romances and what you have is a teenage high school film that is made for grownups.

Coppola gives us a film that is seen through the eyes of the teenagers; their angst, their anxiety, semi-innocence, boredom and excitement. It’s a movie that feels real, with performances to match. Roberts, the niece of Julia, was the perfect choice for the role of April. She’s 23 years old but in the film looks like she’s 16. Kilmer (son of actor Val Kilmer, who has a cameo in the film as a stoned-out stepfather), is also very good as Teddy, tight friends with Fred yet trying to win April’s affections. And Franco is perfect as the lecherous soccer coach – his guilty smile and glint in his eyes say it all – he’s very handsome yet very dangerous. Franco trusted his book to Coppola to turn it into a movie, and she does a fantastic job. Not bad for a first-timer. Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola should watch their back, another Coppola family member is on the way up.