Why Isn't This A Film? - Palo Alto by James Franco

What have we got here then?

Actor James Franco dips his toes into literature with Palo Alto, a collection of short stories set in and around the titular Californian city.

OK fine. What’s it about?

The stories focus on young teens growing up in Palo Alto, generally getting into 'trouble'. Occasionally the characters and stories overlap and/or the same characters reappear in a later story, at some different/alternative point in life.

Interesting. Is there something more?

The 'trouble' constitutes anything from gang rape to manslaughter. So yeah, not a happy book.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

No. Palo Alto is almost inconceivably poorly written, from the point where Franco starts with 'I killed someone on Halloween' - surely a sentence from Fiction Writing 101 - to the closing moments. This would be easy to forget if the stories themselves went anywhere or featured people you could identify with. They don't. If these are genuine recollections from Franco's teenage years then he hung out with a massively anonymous, deeply unsavoury, group of people. If they're meant to represent the teens of today, they don't. There's nothing to latch on to, even with the few protagonists who aren't deeply unstable and/or organisers of gang rape.


I'm afraid there are not 'buts' here. This is the worst book I've made it through in quite some time. Possibly ever. That quote may not make it to the jacket.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

Palo Alto is due for release at some point in 2013. Directed by Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford) from her script of Franco's stories, it is billing itself as a 'dark drama centered on a group of teens with a penchant for finding trouble'. 'Trouble' there, without the qualifying quotation marks.

But who'd star in it?

The cast is headed by Emma Roberts, Val Kilmer and TV's Keegan Allen, plus, in a move I'm sure no-one saw coming, James Franco, in a sympathetic role as, I believe, a good-intentioned English teacher. At this point I would usually comment on who other actors are playing but Franco doesn't bother to characterise anyone, so I can't remember who they are. Roberts plays 'April', whoever she may be.

Will it be any good?

I'm going with no but maybe the structure of a two-hour, joined-together film and someone who can, you know, actually write, might be just what was needed to make this work, plus Franco remains an interesting screen presence.

So... Why isn't it a film?

The only thing stopping this is now time, Palo Alto having overcome that thing which will not stop you in Hollywood; namely, not being very good.

Anything else I should know?

A book of Franco poems is due out in April 2014, entitled Directing Herbert White. First. In. The. Queue.

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. Say what you must its your review BUT only because your adolescent life didnt experience this doesnt mean it isnt relatable. I graduated HS almost 2 ago in LA and let me tell you all this has happened and more. The youth is crazy. You just lives a different social scene is all.

    1. Fair point Stephanie - you're certainly more qualified to comment on that than I, but generally I'll refuse to accept that all of the youth of today are doomed sinners, something which I think Franco comes very close to suggesting. Also still think it's incredibly poorly written but completely accept this may be less of a problem if you relate more to the material.

  2. I actually got to see the Palo Alto movie at a screening and it was much, much better than I'd thought it would be. The acting was terrific and it was subtle and moving. Franco was given a gift with that film from his mediocre book, in my opinion.

    1. Ah well, that is actually very refreshing to hear Anon. Was just listening to a discussion this morning about mediocre books making good films. Glad to hear this may be one of them - better that than the alternative! Thanks for the info.