Film
2:18 pm
Mon July 28, 2014

'Palo Alto' Shows Julia Roberts' Niece Can Hold Her Own

 Palo Alto will be showing at the Riviera Theatre in Three Rivers starting July 29th.

When you're born into an acting dynasty, it's not easy to mark your own mark. And that was precisely what Emma Roberts faced. She's the daughter of Eric Roberts, one of the most electrifying young actors of the 1980s and the niece of Julia Roberts, perhaps the most well-known actress to emerge in the 1990s.

It wouldn't have been surprising to see Emma permanently overshadowed by the earlier generation, but happily that has not been the case. Emma Roberts has been working steadily since she was nine, landing her first major role in the popular Nickelodeon comedy Unfabulous when she was 13.

Ten years later, she's found her own success by tackling an impressive assortment of projects, from TV's American Horror Story to box office hits like Hotel For Dogs and last summer's surprise success We're the Millers, with Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston.

To see Roberts really shine, however, you have to seek out some of her smaller-scale films, like Adult World, her beautifully understated comedy co-starring John Cusack from earlier this year, or Palo Alto, director Gia Coppola's adaptation of a collection of short stories by James Franco.

Palo Alto is a movie that literally begins with a bang and it's Roberts who eventually sends the shock waves. In Palo Alto, Roberts plays April, a high school student who, like so many teens, divides her time between trying to play it cool and wrestling with an endless array of insecurities. In her private moments, she stands in front of her bedroom mirror, struggling to perfect the proper I-couldn't-possibly-care-less stare or to put together an outfit that makes her seem as sophisticated and worldly as her catty classmates.

April makes some extra cash babysitting for her soccer coach, known as "Mr. B" and played by James Franco himself. He's separated from his wife and seems to take a more than professional interest in his players, so we correctly sense April is about to face a very uncomfortable situation.

She's not the only Palo Alto teen who's having difficulty navigating the road to adulthood. Teddy, played by Jack Kilmer, is a young artist who tries to drown his sensitive nature with alcohol and drugs, often at the encouragement of his so-called friend, Fred, played by Nat Wolff.

Fred is the movie's truly loose cannon, a class clown with a decidedly nasty sense of humor, and Wolff, who was so likable as the long-suffering Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars, fearlessly shows off all of Fred's dangerous edges.

While we're on the subject of family legacies, let's note that Gia Coppola is the granddaughter of Godfather and Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola and the niece of Sofia Coppola, director of Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette and The Bling Ring.

Palo Alto is her first feature, and demonstrates she has a gift for really capturing those little moments and throwaway details that can make an ordinary scene genuinely engrossing. In its own way, Palo Alto pays tribute to such classic teen movies as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Sofia Coppola's haunting The Virgin Suicides, which examined similar material in different time periods.

There's an unexpectedly wistful tone to much of Palo Alto, and you can feel the restlessness of these kids as they go to sometimes unsettling extremes while trying to take charge of their lives. No one is more successful at conveying that inner turbulence than Roberts, who becomes the movie's sympathetic centerpiece. At the age of 23, she's just beginning to tackle complex, multi-dimensional roles and Palo Alto indicates this former teen star should do just fine in the big leagues.