Gia Coppola’s debut, ‘Palo Alto,’ an engaging and poetic teenage drama based on James Franco’s stories, ushers in another generation of filmmaking from the famous family.
Gia Coppola sounds surprisingly tentative for someone who has made such a self-assured first feature. “I was really nervous about working with actors because my only real experience was using my friends in short films,” she says of Palo Alto, her totally engaging, emotionally bold, and often poetic drama based on James Franco’s stories about high school kids floundering on the edge of adulthood. “I feel like it’s hard for me to articulate what I want, and I’m pretty shy. But I just tried to be as honest as possible and tell them what the scenes meant to me. And I had seen when I was working on Twixt how my Grandpa would work with actors.” There is something authentic and warm in the way she evokes “my Grandpa,” the great Francis Ford Coppola.
Palo Alto, an ensemble piece starring Emma Roberts, Franco, and Jack Kilmer (Val’s son, in his first role), came about because Coppola met Franco at a party (just try to maneuver that without connections). He sent her the book, which was about to be published. She had recently graduated from Bard, where she studied photography, and sent him some of her work. The project took off from there. What Franco obviously gleaned, and Palo Alto demonstrates, is that she has a true director’s eye, and talent that outweighs insider access.