A young Coppola plumbs James Franco's teenage tales in 'Palo Alto'

Thu May 8, 2014 5:28pm EDT
 
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Gia Coppola hails from Hollywood royalty as the granddaughter of Oscar-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, but when she made her directorial debut she sought the help of actor James Franco to tap into teenage angst.

Coppola, 27, adapted Franco's book "Palo Alto," a collection of short stories exploring suburban ennui in his California hometown, into a film starring young talent, led by Emma Roberts and Jack Kilmer, out in U.S. theaters on Friday.

The filmmaker, the daughter of Gian-Carlo Coppola, who died before she was born, and niece of director and writer Sofia Coppola, began working on the film five years ago after graduating from college with a photography degree. She wanted to tackle a subject that she could relate to - the plight of the American teen.

"When I read (Franco's) book, I just really fell in love with it," Coppola said. "The dialogue felt real, and I haven't seen anything like that in a while that really articulated what it's like to be young today, even though his book took place in the '90's."

Coppola's family has a history of exploring coming-of-age stories, from her grandfather's 1983 films "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish" to her aunt's 1999 feature film debut with "The Virgin Suicides," all of which Coppola said she referenced during her own debut process.

The film features vivid cinematography influenced by the director's photography training, and follows four characters who Coppola pulled together from the stories of Franco, who also appears in the film.

April, played by Roberts, is introverted and mysterious, the object of Teddy's (Kilmer) affections but who is seduced by her 35-year-old teacher, Mr. B (Franco). Fred (Nat Wolff) is the dangerous rebel without a cause who woos the shy and quiet Emily (Zoe Levin), only for their relationship to take a dark turn.

While Franco's book is set in the 1990s, Coppola sets her film in the present, sprinkling cell phones in lightly, but she said she wanted the film to feel "timeless."   Continued...

 
Director Gia Coppola attends the premiere of the film "Palo Alto" in Los Angeles in this file photo from May 5, 2014.  REUTERS/Phil McCarten