It seems the life of a suburban teenager hasn't changed much in recent decades, at least according to writer/director Gia Coppola's Palo Alto. A third-generation filmmaker — 27-year-old granddaughter of Francis Coppola (who makes an off-screen cameo by providing the voice of a juvenile judge) and niece of Sofia — Gia Coppola captures all the familiar aimlessness and intensity of teenage life with her first feature film. She adapted the Palo Alto screenplay from the book Palo Alto: Stories at the request of author James Franco (who appears in the film). The results are impressionistic and driven by the kind of finely drawn characters seldom seen in teen-centered films.
Apart from Emma Roberts, who stars as high school good-girl April in her most affecting performance yet, the ensemble cast consists mostly of actual teenagers who talk and dress like the real thing — not the mid-20s professional-actor types so often cast in these types of roles. Their muddled responses to casually predatory adults (such as Franco's smooth-talking girls' soccer coach Mr. B) and their own weed–smoking parents (Palo Alto is set in the medical marijuana-infused present) consistently ring true. Those in need of an epic story should look elsewhere, but there's a subtlety of feeling in Palo Alto that gives it the air of a promising debut.