Wednesday, September 2, 2015

All in the family

Just as the sons of major league baseball players disproportionately tend to follow them into professional baseball, so too do the sons and daughters of those in the film industry. (Follow them into movies, not into baseball.)

Palo Alto is a prime example of that.

There seems to be no end to the number of Coppolas that keep materializing. (And we're not even talking about Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzmann.) First it was Sofia, erasing everyone's memory of her weak acting in The Godfather Part III and providing one of the more vital and distinct visions among upcoming filmmakers. Then it was Roman, whose CQ, while a bit more esoteric, represented a firm grasp of the medium and a distinct vision of his own. Now the brother and sister have a niece, and Francis Ford a granddaughter, in Gia, who has announced her attentions to be reckoned with as well.

Palo Alto shows an uncommon sense of naturalism from a woman who has filmmaking coursing through her genes. While its realism is sometimes at the expense of, you know, plot, it has a dreamy quality that is entrancing. Which is to say, it's both entirely realistic and entirely dreamy. It feels like something Sofia might have made, but it's also a bit less stylized than Sofia's thematically similar The Bling Ring. However, if their posters are any indication, it seems more likely that Gia is emulating another of her aunt's films:

Then there's the star of the movie, herself a celebrity offspring. And as with the Coppolas, the older generation in the star's family also has multiple people working in the industry. She is Emma Roberts, Eric's daughter and Julia's niece, and she has been on the scene quite a while for a 24-year-old. I first remember seeing her in Aquamarine, way back in 2006, or more likely Lymelife, which came out in 2009 but which I actually saw before Aquamarine. Roberts is all about naturalism, all about underplaying a moment that could be overplayed, and she has always struck me as a fine addition to any cast -- even a scene stealer. Which is hard to do if you are underplaying things, but perhaps that's just how captivating a presence she is, without being an obvious physical beauty. (I mean, she's very attractive, but they are girl next door looks, not model looks.) In Palo Alto she has the halting, hesitating quality of teenagers down perfectly, without appearing to try very hard to get it. Simply put, she's a natural.

Then there's the other star of the movie, Jack Kilmer, who is Val's son. (Val, who also appears in the movie, so briefly that I almost miss the point of his cameo.) The verdict is still out on Jack, as this is his first movie, and you wouldn't say he really has the charisma to start getting a flood of offers. However, in his own way he equals Roberts in his naturalism, or rather, equals the standard for naturalism that Coppola has put in place. Never having appeared in anything before doesn't prevent his name from appearing on the front of the DVD I'm taking back to the library today.

Finally, there's Nat Wolff, the third young star of the movie. I suppose he has about an equal role to the other two, but he feels like a third wheel because the other two are each other's love interests, making them (for all intents and purposes) the romantic leads. Wolff is Polly Draper's son. Who's Polly Draper? Here you go:

She was on thirtysomething. I guess I thought she had done a bit more than that. Hey, they can't all be related to Batman or Pretty Woman.

Even James Franco, upon whose stories this movie was based, and who appears in a supporting role, has some famous family. His brother Dave is a busy working actor as well, having starred in 21 Jump Street, Neighbors and Now You See Me. (And has the distinction of having just gotten engaged to Alison Brie, but let's not let our jealousy sidetrack us.)

While Palo Alto is obviously a good example of this phenomenon at work, it's probably a lot more common than we think. Hollywood is littered with scions of actors, writers and directors of yore. It makes sense, I guess. Not only are you possibly genetically predisposed to this kind of talent, but by watching your parent do it for your whole life growing up, it seemed like something really cool to try to do. Never mind that by having a parent who can influence the production of a film, you have a far greater chance of getting cast.

And so maybe these types stick together, which is why we're seeing a bunch of them in Palo Alto. They come at the world with the same chips on their shoulders, the same need to prove people wrong. If someone says you got a role because of nepotism, all you want to do is show them how good you really are. Sofia Coppola did that magnificently -- if not in her acting, then in her directing. Jack Kilmer may struggle at it, but it remains to be seen. Either way, these people are each others' safe harbors. They've got each others' backs.

And I'll be really interested to see what the latest chip off the old Coppola block comes up with next.

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