“Palo Alto” may not have made as much of a splash with mainstream audiences as some of Nat Wolff’s better-known projects — more on those in a minute — but it allowed him to give what would become, pretty handily, his most acclaimed performance.
A moody, subtly intense arthouse drama about the emptiness and ennui of teenagers’ lives in the city of Palo Alto, California, the Gia Coppola-directed film is ostensibly centered around April (Emma Roberts), a shy wallflower who is being courted by her soccer coach (James Franco). But the environment surrounding April is every bit as crucial to the film’s exploration of a particular sociocultural temperament, and among the other teens making up the tapestry of “Palo Alto,” the one that gets the most attention from the script is resident troublemaker Fred.
A borderline sociopath with terrifyingly destructive and cruel behavior tendencies, Fred epitomizes the film’s sense of creeping unease simmering under the Palo Alto doldrums. Nat Wolff’s brilliant performance, which managed to make Fred both a memorably unhinged antagonist and an effectively understandable product of his time, place, and circumstances, drew enormous praise from critics (via The Atlantic).