Four college freshmen, who were friends in a suburban high school,
return to their home town from four different locations for their first
Thanksgiving as college guys. They pull a prank together, then separate
for the night to have their own adventures. The tone of the film shifts,
often in unpredictable steps, from comedy to drama to sentimental romance.
There are some things to critique in this movie, and I will do that in
a bit, but in the long run those criticisms are not very important for two
(1) Overall, I enjoyed the movie very much, and there are many
positives. To wit:
* The four story lines are interesting, and the editing is slick, so
the individual adventures are interwoven seamlessly and cleverly into a
* There are poignant moments, and good laughs.
* The performances are almost uniformly excellent, The director even
pulled a good performance out of Tom Arnold!
* The musical score works perfectly.
* I enjoyed the complex characters, and the writer/director packed a
tremendous amount of character development into a short film that takes
place on a single night.
(2) The guy who directed and co-wrote this film was only 21 years old
at the time! What is particularly impressive about that is that he managed
to get a lot accomplished without dialogue - with uncomfortable silences,
facial expressions, and other elements of visual storytelling. This movie
is as professionally presented as any big-budget studio film which covers
the same territory. This kid has it.
Having noted that, I should be fair to you readers and note that the
film is not without its faults.
(1) There is a gratuitous lesbian scene which is completely
unbelievable within the story line. Wait! Am I listing that under bad
things? Perhaps I should expand the point by saying that this was one of
several examples where the authors weren't sure how to make major shifts
from reality to fantasy and/or from drama to comedy. In this case, I just
didn't buy into the undeveloped female characters, who came out of left
field to use their girl/girl action to seduce one of our heroes and his
little brother. It wasn't at all clear why they would do such a thing, and
as a result they didn't seem like real characters, but objectified male
fantasies. In fact, I originally thought it was supposed to be a fantasy
sequence, and that the brothers would awake from a drunken dream. I was
later surprised to see that it all really happened.
(2) Far too many dramatic developments happen in one night, and for too
many coincidences are used to advance the plot. This bothered me at first,
but I am withdrawing my objection. I eventually realized that it was all
done in the interest of developing four stories simultaneously. Given my
opinion that the film succeeded in telling all four stories economically,
I have no choice but to concede that the contrived plotting is an example
of necessary artistic license.
(3) This territory and these characters are very familiar to those who
have seen a lot of movies. It's not an intensely personal film, but a
generic coming-of-age story. You can probably determine from my comments
that Palo Alto, Ca is not the kind of film you would expect from a guy who
is young enough to be in school. It has neither the usual negatives nor
the usual positives of youthful indie filmmaking. It's mostly "feel good";
it does not attack any "big ideas" intensely; it is not so personal as to
be uncommercial; and there are no lesbian cowboys eating pudding. It's
more like a Cameron Crowe movie.
One thing surprises me - the lack of a theatrical release. It seems
like a studio film - slick and professional in every way. The authors seem
to understand the youthful target audience, and I can see where this would
be a good date movie. Palo Alto, Ca is not just a precocious work from a
youngster. It is a winner that is capable of connecting to mainstream
suburban audiences. Oh, well. Irrespective of the logic behind the lack of
theatrical distribution, I think you will see excellent movies from Brad
Leong for many years to come.