In James Franco’s ‘Palo Alto,’ a new twist on a time-tested story

Premiere of “Palo Alto”
From left, actors Zoe Levin and Emma Roberts, actor/writer James Franco and director Gia Coppola attend the premiere of “Palo Alto” at the Directors Guild Of America on Monday.
(Jason Kempin / Getty Images)

When turning James Franco’s book of short stories “Palo Alto” into a film, first-time director Gia Coppola said she decided to choose the stories that were “easiest to do cinematically and were a bit longer.”

The result? What actor Keegan Allen called the “high school story.”

The film, which held its Los Angeles premiere at the Directors Guild of America on Monday, follows three high school students: April, played by Emma Roberts, Teddy, played by Jack Kilmer, and Fred, Teddy’s unpredictable best friend played by Nat Wolff. Like many high schoolers, they are forced to face teenage ennui and the challenge of impending adulthood

“I liked writing about teens because a lot of things are new … it’s one of the most transformative periods of one’s life,” Franco, who also stars in the film, said on the red carpet Monday. “A lot of time their emotions on the surface more, so there’s inherent drama in situations that when you are older aren’t so dramatic.”


Allen, known for his role as Toby on ABC Family’s hit show “Pretty Little Liars,” said the film has a kind of universal appeal because “everybody has their own version of the high school story.”

“What Gia did that is so brilliant is take the stories that James wrote and translate that into a voice of a generation,” he said.

Roberts echoed Allen’s comments, noting the film resonates with audiences because of its authenticity.

“I think this is the most honest portrayal of youth I’ve seen in a really long time,” she said. “And I love that Gia let the characters be real ... she wasn’t afraid to let those awkward moments hang there.”


In the film, April, who is confused about Teddy’s feelings for her and anxious about the future, ends up having an affair with her flirty soccer coach, Mr. B (played by Franco), whom she also babysits for.

Though the film shows the underside of that romance, some of the stars noted more harmless versions of it in their own lives.

“I used to love a music teacher of mine,” said Chris Messina, who plays Fred’s father. “She had to know. I was probably in the fifth or sixth grade. Obviously I had no shot with her whatsoever. But I loved her.”

Allen added that it was his Spanish teacher that caught his eye. “[The crush] never came to fruition, obviously … but I was just totally in love.”

But not everyone was hot for teacher.

“All my friends were like, ‘How hot is Mr. So-and-So?’ ” Roberts joked. “And I was, like, ‘Ew, he’s 30!’ ”

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