Overview: California teenagers drift in and out of troubling situations. 2014; Tribeca Film; Rated R; 100 Minutes
Dead and Buried: This is a hard film to review. It’s beautifully shot, there are some great performances, and it’s about as interesting as watching paint dry. I hate making that criticism, for the record. It’s reductive and not at all substantive, but I can’t write about this film without mentioning how dull it is. To be fair, there’s an argument to be made that this is exactly what a film about meandering, dumb teenagers should feel like, and that’s fine. But at the end of the day, this is still a lifeless film.
Stale and Moldy: I’d be willing to forgive that (and put more stock in an “it’s good that it’s dull” read) if it wasn’t so unoriginal. It’s every movie about high schoolers, and how hard it is to be in high school, and angst. Every frame is overflowing with adolescent ennui. The washed-out cinematography communicates that very effectively, but that doesn’t make it feel any fresher. Well-executed garbage is still garbage. “Garbage” is a harsh word for Palo Alto, though. “Sludge” is a bit more accurate.
Old and Older: Perhaps the question, then, is if there’s interesting material to be mined here at all. Are teen melodramas entirely played out? It’s possible. If there is a new teen movie to be made, it has to focus on problems related to teenagers now. In telling a generally “human” story, Palo Alto ignores a lot of young adult culture that hasn’t yet been successfully explored, i.e. social media and the like. It just seems useless, being unable to either say anything new or say something old in a new way.
Wrap-Up: Palo Alto is lovely to look at, but it’s not nearly interesting enough to make up for its lack of originality.