The sensitive virgin. The overly emotionally present high school coach. The inexplicable crush, unrequited love, flawed parental roles, and expected millennial milieu of casual sex, illicit party favors, and cursory tongues are what viewers will be privy to in this new generation of Coppola films. Gia Coppola, granddaughter to Francis Ford and niece to Sophia, follows in her family’s directorial footsteps this week when her debut film Palo Alto hits the theaters on May 16. The 27-year-old’s surname is not only fortunate heritage for the new director and screenwriter, it seems to humbly attract fresh and seasoned talent to her, well, like a magnet.
“Coppola” is not the only family name acquainted with the film. The cast is littered with Hollywood family names, even if the faces that go along with them are new, or fairly new, to the industry, such as Gia Coppola herself. Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric and niece to Julia, stars as the protagonist April, a confused suburban high schooler in a more-than-chaperone relationship with her soccer coach, played by James Franco, who also wrote the story the screenplay is adapted from. A while back, Gia ran into Franco twice in the same day, an occurrence they both accepted as fate. Eventually they began to share material and decided they wanted to work on a project together.
Emma is no stranger to the industry, with notable roles in Nickelodeon’s Unfabulous and American Horror Story from FX. She has also played a variety of roles in such films as Scream 4 (2011), 220.127.116.11 (2010), Hotel for Dogs (2009), and Nancy Drew (2007), but this may be the first time the 5’2” actress has been in the presence of such a legendary and home-grown cast. As a result of random run-ins with Emma, Gia said she had a “gut instinct” that the young blonde was the right girl for the role. Gia says she is happy to have her on board, because she is so supportive of the cast and the process.
Val Kilmer’s son, Jack, is cast in his acting debut as Teddy, April’s “age-appropriate” crush. Gia explains that she and Jack went to the same school growing up, and she has known him for years. As she was purveying potential actors for the role of Teddy, she said she could not find a “real teenager” as interesting as Jack. The realization popped into her head during a casual dinner together. Although he has never acted before, Gia claims he has a captivating “natural quality” that makes one want to follow him around on the screen.
Val also has a cameo role in the film. The Kilmers apparently have been life-long friends with the The Godfather’s granddaughter, and Val granted Gia the favor of making an appearance in her first film. Val graces the screen in a small role as April’s step-father, and he also supported Gia and his son by showing up during filming occasionally. For the most part, father and son kept adequate distance. According to Gia, Jack really appreciated his space.
Francis Ford Coppola makes an appearance as well, of sorts, in the film as the voiceover of a judge. Gia admits her grandfather relented to her favor. Initially, he really did not want to do it. Since it was Gia’s first foray into the industry, she attests to trying to cash in on as many favors as possible. She could not afford to shoot in a courtroom, so her way of getting around it was by having her grandfather’s “judge-ly” voice compensate for the scene. “He gave me one shot. That was all I got,” she laughs.
Family heritage, as well as teenage lust and suburban confusion, plays a big role in the making of the coming-of-age film Palo Alto from Gia Coppola. Calling in favors from old friends and running into new talent, and James Franco, casually while about town has helped the stars align for this new-comer, and time will tell if such collisions will catapult this Coppola into the notoriety usually associated with those of her kin. Palo Alto opens May 16, rated R for sex content, drug and alcohol use, and vulgar language appropriated by the teenage cast.
By Stacy Feder