Palo Alto

There are reasons to resist Palo Alto. Foremost, yes, it’s another James Franco product, adapted from his short-story collection and built around an uncomfortably snug-fitting role for him as a high school girls’ soccer coach with predatory tendencies. Beyond that, you might already feel leery of a movie made by Francis Coppola’s granddaughter starring Julia Roberts’ niece and Val Kilmer’s son. Will it help to be assured that Emma Roberts generates more electricity from this than from all the other films she’s been in; that Jack Kilmer has screen presence in spades; and that one way Gia Coppola deals with privileges is by recognizing and revealing their limits? Sensitivity to the inner lives of bored and troubled teenagers is sort of a Coppola family business, and also, historically, a thing we keep wanting our movies to have. What’s more, to situate the intense yet strangely immaterial vicissitudes of adolescence within the brimming field of Francology seems like a brave and reasonably useful project, especially since Coppola stays so commendably clear-eyed about both the creep factor and the lonely desperation underneath it. This is a movie whose action amounts to its characters spending time being in moods. Also including Nat Wolff as a volatile troublemaker, the cast coheres even as the story doesn’t, quite; it’s gently done, if also underdone. But then, by being so light, it rises above any reasons to resist it.