Palo Alto is the newest film offering by James Franco and starring an innocent (if not full-haired) Emma Roberts as his underage love interest. The film made waves not too long ago when it was suspected that Franco's inappropriate advances toward a real live underage girl was simply part of a marketing campaign for the film.
Having grown up just a few miles from Palo Alto in Los Gatos and having spent a significant amount of time in Palo Alto doing theatre, I decided to give the film a watch. Mind you, although Los Gatos and Palo Alto are not the same town, they may as well be. Los Gatos only differs from Palo Alto in that it isn't as large of a town (I guess Palo Alto qualifies as a small city). The melancholy of the children of upper middle class success stories and looking for ways to measure up to their parents is still a reality in Los Gatos--as is the idea of kids with too much disposable income. Oh, and James Franco is from there, which I guess is the entire point of Palo Alto the movie.
The film to me was entirely disappointing and I'm not sure what James Franco was trying to accomplish, other than capture the essence of bored, wealthy, white, rich kids with overly involved parents. And do it all with subtle pink and blue gels over the camera. Yes, it did capture the banality and confusion of life in a wealthy town where kids are constantly under pressure of immeasurable success and seeking out the next thrill (whether it be meaningless underage sex or pot)--but who cares? Haven't a million movies already been made about privileged teens? YAWN. Maybe it is so boring to me because it is the teenage years myself and friends experienced, but I can't imagine people not from this community finding the film any more fascinating.
To me, the movie had nothing to do with Palo Alto, so I'm really unsure why it was even called as such. It could be a movie about the aforementioned group of kids, the enormous pressure put on upper middle class kids to succeed in any town in the US. The kicker for me was that the movie wasn't even filmed in Palo Alto, but instead in Los Angeles disguised as Palo Alto. Would it really be that hard to shoot at PALY or Gunn over the summer or a spring break? I kept looking for landmarks of note, only to realize there were none, ultimately leading me down a path of utter horror when I realized the movie was shot somewhere else entirely.
Also, where the hell were the non-white people? If you're going to make a film about Los Gatos, I guess it is kind of realistic to only include white people (although you're still missing a huge part of the population)--but Palo Alto has a rather large Indian and Asian population. Apparently James Franco didn't see it fit to include them (god knows why) because this was, for whatever reason, just a film about white angst.
Lastly, my biggest issue of the film was the constant reference to teen suicide. In Palo Alto and the surrounding areas, there was once an epidemic of kids and young adults killing themselves. The Westboro Baptist Church even got wind of it and came to tell us all what terrible people we are for allowing liberal ideas to flourish (which apparently leads to teen suicide). Instead of Palo Altans being angry, they chased off the church by singing. But I digress. One of my very good friends was among one of the young people to take his life around this time, and he is someone I remember and miss pretty much daily. I read somewhere James Franco said he wrote the book in which the movie is based "at a time when kids were throwing themselves in front of train tracks." Um...okay? I'm confused...is this film supposed to explain why this was happening? Because it does nothing but morbidly discuss it, which made me uncomfortable.
If you enjoy the movie, more power to you. But girl, I couldn't do it.