2022 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Palm trees and power lines is a powerful and intimate film about a dark and disturbing subject that revolves around the need for attachment and attention. Seventeen-year-old Lea (Lily McInerny) finds fulfillment with 34-year-old Tom (Jonathan Tucker). Director and screenwriter Jamie Dack based her feature debut on her 2018 short of the same name and continues her story on a much larger canvas.
Dack’s ability to capture the viewer’s attention through simple yet powerful storytelling on the very serious, frightening and uncomfortable subject of sexual behavior, misconduct and exploitation between a minor and an adult is extremely impressive. Make the disturbing palpable, Palm trees and power lines establishes how adolescent vulnerability and adult survival collide. Juxtaposing Lea’s mother (Gretchen Mol), who is a little selfish and unlucky in love and, perhaps, in life, against a bored teenager during summer vacation, Lea’s existence seems mundane in a summer uninteresting and hot.
In a middle-class California suburb, Lea catches Tom’s attention after doing a dinner-and-ditch maneuver with her friends. It doesn’t take long for Lea to focus on Tom, who slowly and sneakily connects her to a world she is unaware of but eventually succumbs to and is unable to disconnect. For him, she is an obsession, which the teenager accepts at full speed. Her estranged mother and friends apparently don’t see or understand what Lea is up to, but their existence is as bland as it gets.
“After simple, non-imposing, trivial appointments, Lea and Tom enter a passionate sexual relationship”.
After simple, non-imposing and innocuous dates, Léa and Tom enter into a passionate sexual relationship. Lea lies about her whereabouts to her friends and mother. A friend sees her with Tom at the beach, which leads to school gossip about her old boyfriend, which Lea has no interest in even though Tom’s life doesn’t add up. He lives in a motel, his phone rings for his so-called construction work that doesn’t exist, and there’s a sketchy altercation with a woman and a man in his motel, in which he appears to be a key player.
Tom gives Lea a bracelet, which brings her closer to him, and they embark on a getaway. When Lea escapes, she tries to go back to her old life, but it’s not quite the same. Does she fall back into old traps and yearn for Tom? Or did Léa come out of this experience slightly scarred, but stronger and more resolute?
Palm trees and power lines is based on the exceptional performance of Lily McInerny. His game is all the more impressive given Jonathan Tucker’s focused, veteran experience and his few powerful moments with Gretchen Mol.
The drama does not preach or point fingers at its subjects. Instead, he uses the expressive and powerful artistry of cinema to explain how the world allows such behavior and how difficult it is to suppress it. Dack’s work as a director is on screen, in character, and largely successful with the way the actors convey her vision. His writing and directing Palm trees and power lines will make the difference because it is organic, original and essential.
Palm trees and power lines projected to 2022 Sundance Film Festival.