Palo Alto – Gia Coppola (2014)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/gia-coppola-talks-about-palo-alto-1.1701242

PIECES OF APRIL
Gia, the next Coppola in line, on adapting Palo Alto and being her own Coppola
By: Rob Boylan

Like the Kennedys in politics or the Mannings in football, film has its own dynasty in the form of the Coppola family. Along with the Hustons, the Coppolas are the only family in Oscar history to have three generations of winners. Together, the family owns 8 statues (double the Hustons’ 4), spread across Carmine, Francis, Sofia and Nicolas Cage, with a combined 24 nominations. And now there is a new generation starting to wade out into the world being spearheaded by Gia Coppola and her film Palo Alto.

But when I ask her about growing up in a dynasty over the phone, the tenor of conversation shifts. “I mean, I don’t know any other way of living. It’s very normal,” she says with a slight sense of frustration growing in her voice. “I have such an appreciation for my family and their movies. I’ve learned so much from them just growing up on their movie sets, but at the same time I wanted to grow and face my own challenges.

“[But Palo Alto] was made through James’s production company [instead of American Zoetrope], so it was really important for me to do this on my own and find my own voice.”

The James in that sentence is James Franco, whose book of short stories was adapted by Coppola for the screen, and who also co-stars as the charming-creepy girls soccer coach, Mr. B.

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The stories are somewhat separate in the book, but have been combined by Coppola to form a rotisserie of angst, alienation, abuse and ennui where bad decisions and drugs abound for the loosely affiliated group of friends, April (Emma Roberts), Teddy (Jack Kilmer), Fred (Nat Wolff) and Emily (Zoe Levin).

April and Teddy make up much of the film’s focus. They are mutual crushes, but because of crossed wires neither realizes it and both look elsewhere for someone to love them back. That leads them down different paths, but both of them only find emotional landmines in their way.

April is the sensitive soul who puts on a nonchalant front, who smokes and drinks because she wouldn’t fit in otherwise. Even with that front, she doesn’t really fit in. She flits from group to group searching for a comfortable niche to fit into, but never really finds anything but a parody of comfort when Mr. B begins to take an interest in her as more than Coach.

Teddy is more sensitive than the rest as well, but its to a more skewed degree than April. He is sensitive and still childlike — in one piece of the film he dreams of being in a wolf suit, playing an anguished Max from Where the Wild Things Are — but he stops a few steps short of April’s sensitive nature. Even with a loving family at home, his front goes a few steps beyond when Teddy crashes his car while drunk and flees the scene.

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“James’s book is dark at times. I tried to make certain things a little hopeful, but I also knew I didn’t want to totally change it … That stuff does go on and life is dark sometimes.” Things do seem darker of late, kids more wired than I remember. “I don’t think emotions change,” she says when I ask if kids are under more pressure to succeed than when she or I were their age. “Its kind of an organic thing that we all go through where we’re physically and hormonally changing. It feels really heavy.”

It makes me wonder if a film can be too organic though. In my head I can counter the idea that the film meanders or doesn’t find its dramatic ending by telling myself that teenagers meander and only have dramatic endings if they die. If being a teenager weren’t intensely boring, it wouldn’t lead to drinking or seeing which drug is the most fun to abuse the hell out of. The fact that teenagers need something else to make them more interesting maybe means that films about teenagers need something else to make them as interesting as they can be. Maybe not always as extreme a basketball playing wolfman, but something. In that sense, Palo Alto only manages to get to third base. As an audience, it’s a good time but we keep our underwear on.

Nobody makes a perfect first film though. To harp on the family angle again for a moment, neither Dementia 13 nor The Virgin Suicides were perfect either. It takes a minute to learn the rules of the game and how to bend them to your will to make the picture you want to make. To distinguish yourself in the T-Rex-sized footprints of such a famous family can’t be an easy task, but on the other hand, who would bet against a Coppola?

30 years of raiding Barry Manilow’s wardrobe

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/30-years-of-raiding-barry-manilows-wardrobe-breakfast-club/

Saturday…March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon…we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athelete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning.

We were brainwashed…

It’s such a strange and disorienting feeling when a touchstone of being young and frustrated turns a landmark age as John Hughs’s The Breakfast Club does today (or by the date it takes place on anyway; its release date was in February).

The film belongs strongly to the 80s — it might be the signature film of the 80s, in fact — but throughout the years has become timeless as generations since have picked up on its keen observations and well drawn characters. They are detailed to enough to be specific and alive, yet broad enough for everyone to have someone in the film to latch onto. Everyone has an in. It’s the basket case for me, though I can certainly see things from Brian and Andy’s perspectives as well.

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The film came out when I was still 3 years old, yet feels attuned to how I felt at 16 when I finally saw it years later. As much as they are a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal, none of them are. It’s all fear and stupidity. That’s all being a teenager is about, it just comes out in different ways. It sounds cliche and overly reductive to say it like that, but the best themes in film are always the simplest themes. It’s all a matter of dramatic (or comedic) degree after that.

Whether he actually knew he was writing about fear or not, Hughes destroyed it when he wrote the script (the first draft allegedly over one weekend — read it here, it’s a very good read and has more insight into the characters). He’d written and directed entertaining movies before (as he did after) but never made anything as powerful, perceptive, funny or universal.

There is a line in the original draft of the screenplay when Bender is hiding under the table and sticks his head up Claire’s (Cathy, early) skirt that sort of reminds of me Hughes writing this script:

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Raw, unrepeatable power is the perfect notion of this film. It’s lightning, caught.

Though as lightning does when it strikes, it leaves the ground marred. I’ve always considered the ending of the film (mostly Allison cleaning up and hooking up with Andy, while Brain is forever alone) to be a black mark on the film. I’m hardly alone in that though, of course. The issue stems from this: Hughes has the princess clean the basket case up and pairs her off with the jock. That just didn’t work for me on any level when I was younger. I considered it cinematic theft by the criminally insane misfit, John Hughes.

But I’m older now. The film is 30, I’m 33. I’m an adult, sort of, and I see the ending different — or at least I feel it less. I’m not as attached to the film itself or the characters as I am to the idea of myself being young and frustrated by adults and this film reflecting that so well. The more true ending would have been the five reverting to their social roles come Monday morning, but in a strange way Hughes might have written the most teenage ending to the film possible, because, really, what does a teenager do better than making a mistake at the worst moment?

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