Palo Alto is yet another story of disaffected teenage privilege, but unlike (say) the horrid brats in The Bling Ring, its characters inhabit a world of wounded psyches and wasted potential. The film feels, at first, like a misbegotten combination of Harmony Korine and Todd Solondz, with its luridly oversexed teenagers and skeevy soccer coaches. But writer-director Gia Coppola — yes, part of the tribe — gradually gets closer to her protagonists, and finds a trio of sad, insecure kids trying to make it out of high school without getting too badly hurt.
The movie remains a little Solondz-y, though I think that may be the fault of the source material (a series of short stories by none other than James Franco, who also plays the skeevy soccer coach). A gangbang rape related through voiceover as an afterthought is a low point. But Coppola has a way of plausibly sketching complicated, sympathetic characters, most notably a motor-mouthed bully played by Nat Wolff. Coppola’s dialogue and Wolff’s fantastic performance show both the hurt and discomfort the boy is desperately trying to mask, and the abusive, manipulative man he is well on his way to becoming.
— Eugene Novikov