TEENANGSTERS AND DOPPLEANGSTERS: Palo Alto and The Double


Palo-AltoPalo Alto is about teenage angst and existential ennui, just like the Twilight series, but without the werewolves and vampires, though almost as painful to get through (sorry, but it’s true).
The story revolves around three teens: April (Emma Roberts), Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and Fred (Nat Wolf) who are going through the throes of finding themselves. Unfortunately, the throes they are going through are pretty much the same throes that millions of other movie teens have pretty much gone through in millions of other movies before this and dramatized in pretty much the same way as those millions of others that came before as well.

 

April and Teddy have a not meet cute moment at one of those typical high school bacchanal parents are out of town parties. It’s an enchanted evening, they see each other across a crowded room, yadda, yadda, yadda. But instead of getting together, they do that misunderstanding thing where they think that the other person is really interested in someone else so April flirts with a guy she isn’t the least bit interested in and Teddy gets a blow job from the school pump (don’t you just hate when that happens).

 

Then they spend the rest of the movie slowly (and the operable word here is slowly) finding their way back to each other, taking as much time as it took for Candide to find Cunegonde again.

 

Meanwhile, Fred is having his own issues, most of which are the result of serious emotional and quite possibly even more serious mental problems (though I’m not sure the filmmakers realize just how serious his problems are, but the word Columbine did flit to mind once or twice during the evening).

 

But the story never really goes anywhere (and never goes anywhere at a snail’s pace) because the author/director Gia Coppola (adapting some short stories by actor James Franco) has failed to give us one important ingredient: a reason we should care if April and Teddy get together at all.   I mean, they seem like nice enough kids, but there’s not enough to them, and there’s not enough of a spark between the two actors to really become invested in whether they become romantically involved by the time all the stϋrm and drang has been stϋrmed and dranged.

 

So the film only really comes alive or has any real energy when Fred is on the street doing outrageous things and acting in highly questionable and self-destructive ways.

 

Roberts, Kilmer and Wolf do the best they can with what little they are given to do (and Roberts gives a much better performance here than she does in Adult World). As for the adults, James Franco, as April’s teacher who has a penchant for high school girls (who didn’t see that coming and from the previews, no less) and Chris Messina, as Fred’s father who tries to seduce Teddy (and, no, I did not see that coming), do the best. The other adults all come across as non-actors that are cast to try to give a movie authenticity, but only point out how inauthentic the movie ultimately feels.

 

In the end, I hate to say it, but it’s a somewhat dull movie with somewhat dull people do somewhat dull things.

 

the-double-trailerThe Double, the new adaption of the Fyodor Dostoevsky novella, has one of the most impressive looks in movies in some time. It’s filled with strange looking machines that feel both futuristic and obsolete at the same time surrounded by stark set designs that suggest what Terry Gilliam’s Brazil would have looked like if it had taken place in a post World War II communist country.

 

It stars Jesse Eisenberg as Simon, a nebbish office drone at a business that does something or other. He actually has a rather acute mind and all sorts of ideas on how to improve efficiency, but is so much of a milquetoast that he is either ignored or bullied, depending on the time of day. He’s such a drip, he can’t even declare his true feelings for Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who works in the copy department (Simon keeps claiming the copier in his area is broken just so he can make his way to Hannah’s department and stutter his way through not talking to her).

 

Things take a different turn for Simon, to say the least, when one day his department gets a new member, James, an alpha male who looks, sounds and dresses exactly like Simon. Everybody loves the new transferee while not noticing that he is an exact double of Simon, even when Simon points it out, which he never really does, since he is too much of a Walter Mitty to do so.

 

At this point, we are in full Kafkaesque territory, or we would be if the story wasn’t based on a work by Dostoevsky. And it’s maddening, darkly funny and often a lot of fun.

 

At the same time, the movie as a whole never quite works as well as one might want it to. Part of this may be because, in many ways, the second act is really little more than a repeat of act one, only more of it. In the first third, Simon is bullied and ridiculed and treated very badly (perhaps most frustratingly and amusingly by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as the security guard who gives Simon a hard time every morning when the sad sack comes to work).

 

In the second part, Simon is….bullied and ridiculed and treated very badly, but the only difference is that James is doing it, too. So in many ways, we’re just biding time waiting to see how it all plays out.

 

And I’m not sure it plays itself out in that satisfactory a way. It has some good ideas, mainly one revolving around a suicide attempt (I don’t think I fully understand it, but it’s too clever for that to be a major problem). But again, this part feels a bit repetitious: Simon fights back, but for every one step forward he makes, he gets pushed back two, and again, this part feels a little unfocused and without a clear direction.

 

In the end, the resolution is more intellectually intriguing than emotionally satisfying.

 

There is much to like in the acting. Simon/James is a good fit for Eisenberg and makes excellent use of his usual qualities. Mia Wasikowska’s character seems more along for the ride, but there’s something about her that makes one sit up and take notice.

 

And some of the most fun and unusual people show up. Cathy Moriarty is a sullen waitress out of Five Easy Pieces; Wallace Shawn has a great time as Simon’s jibber jabbery spouting boss; James Fox (of the Fox brothers) is around as the mysterious, cult like owner of the mysterious, cult like company; and Chris O’Dowd plays an hysterical nurse (hysterical as in funny, not emotionally). Also on tap are Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Craig Roberts and Jasmine Paige.

 

It’s clever and the sort of cast every independent movie should strive for.

 

The movie was written by Avi Korine and Richard Ayoade. Ayoade also directed. For fans of British television, Ayoade plays the geeky geek on The IT Crowed (as opposed to the non-geeky geek played by Chris O’Dowd). He also gave us the moving coming of age drama Submarine which also used Noah Taylor, Craig Roberts and Jasmine Paige.

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