Lauren Molyneux curls up with a good book to review one of the latest best sellers
Written by well-known actor and director, James Franco, Palo Alto shares the experiences of a group of teenagers living in suburban America.
Palo Alto is raw and comedic at times, with a sad, stark honesty that can be difficult to face but, ultimately, is completely authentic.
Teddy has potential but mixes with the wrong crowd. Caught in the midst of an existential crisis, as most teens are, he finds himself flitting between acts of aggression and moments of overwhelming sentimentality. With a voice which echoes that of literature’s infamous misunderstood teen, Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye, his reckless adolescent behaviour is punctuated with fleeting moments of clarity and insight, and the telling of his narrative spiral is both intriguing and entirely unique.
April is the star of the school soccer team and, thanks to her stepdad, a genius in mathematics. She has prospects of a bright future but questions her morality and the morals of the adults around her, when her relationship with her coach becomes complicated.
These are just two of the characters whose lives we are given a brief glimpse into through Franco’s intuitive narrative. Drawing parallels with other coming-of-age novels, Palo Alto stands out in its portrayal of life as an adolescent through its stark expression of the light and dark elements of this tempestuous period of life that is experienced by all.
Franco’s narrative is both entertaining and oddly poetic and, although at times taking a somewhat unexpected dark turn, it’s difficult not to admire his talent as a writer. Perfectly capturing the in-between status of teenage angst, Franco shares these teen experiences with clarity and candour.
Ultimately, Franco provides a rollercoaster of a read, shifting from humour, to unease, to pure enjoyment, and Palo Alto provides a somewhat surreal sense of familiarity, dragging up those embarrassing memories that you thought you’d put to rest long ago.
These tellings of the complexities of young adulthood have now been adapted into film. Translated wonderfully from page to screen by director Gia Coppola, the Palo Alto stories are reflected brilliantly through her artistic direction and considered cinematography, providing an overall aesthetic which not only captures the essence of the written collection, but also brings new insight to the characters and narrative.
Through incredible casting, well thought-out mise-en-scene and clever camera-work, Coppola’s intelligent retelling seeks to remind the viewer that, despite their apparent maturity and the complexities experienced by the teens on screen, they are all stuck in a phase of life in which they are neither adults nor children, and every frame is filled with a shared anxiety about what the future holds. difficult for readers not to put themselves to the same challenge.