Palo Alto (2013)

A girl likes a boy and thinks that he likes her too, but drinking makes it a mess of it and knocks around hearts and pride, and maybe they were both imagining it anyway.

Who needs chicks? And who needs boys with fair hair and round blue eyes when you can have a man? Your cute soccer coach seems game; everyone agrees he’s hot. You’re always over there babysitting. And he made you striker, even though you suck. But then there’s the boy; you guys get each other, at least when you’re together. The rest of the time you’re not sure of what’s going on or who you are anyway.

The older soccer coach with April, one of his many 'babysitters'

That’s probably what makes a teenage girl so irresistible to a separated father, who’s played by a fallen-from-grace heartthrob who inhabited this world 20 years ago and wrote about it but now has to make do with this part of the much-older soccer coach, who’s always going on dates because he’s still got some of his looks, and definitely that charm that never seems to leave some people even though it should because it starts to come off as creepiness fuelled by hubris and a general detachment from reality. Or maybe he is deeply grounded in the reality of his failure to connect with women and is gaming the situation to his fleshly advantage, prepared to cycle through teenage girl after teenage girl because fleeting connections are better than none right? I mean what’s an immature thirty-something man meant to do­­—spend his entire life loveless?

Fred, the dangerously reckless character of Palo Alto, hammers the patio at a party

Maybe he is just misunderstood, like the feral and self-pitying loose cannon, Fred, who can’t take disunity and wants all or nothing and will not be abandoned by the fair-haired best friend always at his side. But this angel child is definitely not his best friend if anyone asks. Or if anyone’s watching for that matter, as he cajoles and bribes and pressures and blames and flees his cupid-faced conspirator after a drink driving incident.

That angel face is matched by heavenly recognition from everyone around him, at least until the juvenile parole officer bursts the Santa Clara Valley bubble, where mothers coo from afar and creativity equals innocence and life doesn’t require too much attention. Juvenile hall and respecting property and consequences—what’s this sour woman talking about, maybe she doesn’t get it?

The angel artist wins out in the end, with his power to ‘see’ women’s true identities and feelings. Even men are attracted to him. But he knows the right moment to pull away from the things he doesn’t want, knows better than the silly girls who get dragged into pools or babysitting rings with benefits or games of ‘Never have I ever’. He walks free through foggy valley streets that blaze by day and feel eerie at night, looking magical under the lens of a Coppola.

And really, the angel and the wrecking ball and the soccer-playing babysitter are all just being stupid because it’s the only way that young people know how to be. And it’s actually quite touching to see the gimmicks and flourishes they use to shake off their for-now subconsciously recognised privilege, and carve out some ‘alternative identity’ that seems more authentic.

Because it wasn’t so long ago that I was walking home from parties in odd clothes from different eras stolen from the school’s costume department, thinking this was the beginning of a new phase where things all made sense and you ‘got it’ and knew who you were and you didn’t have to worry anymore. Breathing in lungfuls of crisp chilly air and feeling that tomorrow had arrived and it was as good as you’d hoped, and everything had worked out. But there’s always another tomorrow to work on so you’re glad you remembered that feeling and that films like this come along and recreate it so you don’t have to stretch your imagination too far.

April's character seems lost for most of the film, until her and Teddy reconcile

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