Most students would agree that high school is far from fascinating. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the majority would say it’s a monotonous, sleep-deprived, stressful, four-year odyssey that just leads to more school.

But really, if you look at high school from an almost out–of–body, objective viewpoint, it is fascinating.

Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto,” based on James Franco’s short stories of the same name, paints a fairly accurate, intriguing picture of high school. This allows the viewer to get an intimate look at what it’s like to be a teen in the 21st century.

Most of the time, “Palo Alto” is so genuine that it feels like spying. Scenes progress naturally and, luckily, they avoid contrived comedy.

But most importantly, “Palo Alto” isn’t another idyllic teenybopper rom-com (e.g. “Easy A” and “She’s the Man”). While it does focus on more rebellious teens, Coppola has created the most authentic film portrayal of high school that I’ve seen.

The film opens with two friends, Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and Fred (Nat Wolff), smoking and drinking in an empty parking lot.

The dialogue is realistic and the content is spot on.

Fred asks random questions like what would you do if you could go back to medieval times?

Eventually, this leads to a verbally aggressive and playful argument.

Throughout the film, these seemingly insignificant questions, discussions and sometimes pointless arguments portray a lot of what high schoolers talk about.

The word choice for the teens is also accurate. Slang words like “bud” will prompt an obligatory Urban Dictionary search for most adults.

The story doesn’t focus on just one or even two Palo Alto teens either.

Instead, Coppola deftly intertwines several high schoolers’ lives in order to give the audience a wide variety of lifestyles and personal issues.

Viewers see April (Emma Roberts), a kindhearted, mostly confused, average teen. She’s overwhelmed by the prospect of college, while she also has to deal with volatile love interests like her soccer coach (James Franco).

Mr. B, the coach, manipulates April to have sex with him by professing his love to her and convincing her that he is better than boys her age. Throughout this sad love affair, the audience watches as April wrestles with her complicated feelings towards Mr. B.

Emily is confused and also deals with manipulative guys. Guys take advantage of her thirst for companionship, and use her for easy sex.

Her situation and issues aren’t funny. Instead, Coppola portrays Emily’s life as genuine and tragic.

Like many of the other characters, she is ultimately alone and unsure of what to do.

Teddy, a promising artist and an unruly teen, faces the same issues of overwhelming confusion in different ways.

Should I hang out with crazed, delinquent, stoner, best-friend Fred even though I’m on parole and could risk going to juvie? Is he even a friend?

To be clear, it’s not an over-glorified lesson in teenaged debauchery a la “Project X.” Instead, through a haze of binge drinking, drugs, sex and school, they all believably stumble through their respective lives.

Coppola also nails the soundtrack by employing Devonte Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange) to score the film.

Almost all of the songs are a variation on an atmospheric, fluttery theme that plays throughout, adding to the movie’s continuity.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the scene compositions, but I also noticed a recurring color palette of blues and oranges.

Both of these aspects create a cohesiveness that the film needs due to its many characters.

And again, the subject matter in question is fascinating.

It’s high school: these adult-kids try to make sense of an intricate, unforgiving, confusing world pretty much on their own. It makes for a great movie.

 

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