Earlier in the festival, I saw Matthew Weiner's You Are Here. Weiner was incredibly gracious with a Q&A after the screening, and when he talked about how he wanted to make a straightforward slice of life dramedy, it brought the film's strengths and weaknesses into relief. The movie mostly works in my opinion, aside from a few contrived plot points and an absolutely painful musical score. But based on that, I'm disinclined to give it a pass or a recommendation. That Weiner heard this over the top jokey goofy score, that's two steps removed from the Seinfeld music, and didn't say "no, this is inappropriate for a movie about two guys dealing with their shit, their relationships, and each other in a somewhat realistic fashion" damns the film because anytime you're starting to identify with the humanity of the characters you're ripped out by a playful piano cue.
Palo Alto, Gia Coppola's directorial debut based of James Franco's book of short stories, did not have a Q&A (few screenings late in the festival do). I'm glad it didn't, because the last thing I want from this movie is any kind of meaning ascribed to it. It is a meaningless story about meaningless characters making shitty decisions and not changing.
I really responded to it.
The characters all make bad decisions of their own volition. To make out with a student. To use a girl for sex. To be used for sex and take it. To get high, crash a car, and drive away. To see your friends make decisions you know are shitty and not stop them. To try and do the right thing only to see people doing the wrong thing and seeming so much god damn happier about it and thinking yeah, that's what I'm gonna do. Because we can only be measured by our abilities to get laid.
This movie brought up way too many memories of working on Spring Break... and not really in a good way, or a way I'm proud of. I never really moved past that crappy behaviour. I think half the reason I want to be in a relationship so badly is because I know my current state is an awful way to live, and yet I see no other way to get there than to keep getting out there and trying to find someone who's right for me.
The music is beautiful and compliments the proceedings wonderfully. The performances, direction, editing... all are good enough to not get in the way of the story. There is nothing to dislodge your suspension of disbelief, to pull you out of the experience, which the more I think on it, is one of the things I least like to see in a film. If I can get lost in what's happening on the screen, I don't need the constant stimulation way too many of the movies I see strive for.
There are groan-worthy moments, but they're groan-worthy because these are characters we want to see being better than they are... it's a testament to the quality of the film that I cared. Maybe that bar was a bit lower for me than it will be for you, but as a documentation of teenage angst and futility... it's damn near perfect. I'm just grateful that I have no reason to believe it was intended to be anything else.