By Colin Covert
Gia Coppola didn’t consider it inevitable that she’d enter the family business. It was James Franco who nudged her into moviemaking.
Coppola, who studied photography at Bard College, had sent Franco samples of her work that convinced him she should adapt his book “Palo Alto Stories,” a portrait of adolescent angst in suburban Silicon Valley.
While her relatives didn’t recruit her into the film world, the 27-year-old writer / director freely acknowledges her heritage.
In “Palo Alto,” grandfather Francis Ford Coppola voices the part of a judge sentencing a high-school hellraiser to community service. The bedroom of female lead April (Emma Roberts), shot in Gia’s own preserved childhood room, features a poster for aunt Sofia’s “The Virgin Suicides.”
“Certain doors are open to me” because of her famous name, she said in a recent phone conversation, “but I have to work twice as hard to prove that I’m my own person and that I can do this on my own.”
Coppola said working with Franco (who appears in the film as a skeevy athletic coach) made the project “a step-by-step process. I could just be free and not think about the pressures, given my background, from outside sources.”
If those burdens included great expectations because of her bloodline, she’s in the clear. The film has been hailed as a promising debut for a filmmaker of real talent.
Roberts (Julia’s niece) and costar Jack Kilmer (son of Val) also have won the kind of strong notices nepotism can’t deliver.
Coppola said the project appealed because she’d just finished college and had enough distance from her high-school years to be objective about it.
“My teenage years were spent, a lot of the time, driving around figuring out what you want to do. The best part of the night is when you’re just hanging out in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. His book painted it an accurate way that I hadn’t seen in a long time,” she said.