The Tribes of Palos Verdes is one version of a story you’ve seen before. Sometimes cautionary tales bear repeating and when it’s this beautifully photographed you’ll be drawn in quickly and enjoy the ennui with the California sunsets.
Medina (Maika Monroe) and Jim (Cody Fern) have been dragged by their train-wreck parents from their home in Michigan to beautiful Palos Verdes so their father can advance his career as a heart surgeon in a place where cash flows like the golden sunlight.
“…you’ll be drawn in quickly and enjoy the ennui with the California sunsets.”
Medina is an introvert, whereas Jim immediately scopes out the cool kids and joins the fray. The brother/sister bond between them is tight and they grow even closer in this alien place as they learn to surf and take their refuge in the rhythms of the waves.
Brothers Brendan and Emmett Malloy started directing commercials and music videos, then moved on to documentaries and feature films. Their skill and experience shows here, particularly in the surfing footage, which is dazzling. Venturing into Young Adult film with this feature based on the novel by Joy Nicholson is the right fit for them.
There’s nothing supernatural to the teen angst here, no Hunger Games or sparkling vampires, just the horrors of a crumbling family life as a teen outsider in a new town trying to fit into a scene that has few rules and no logic.
“…a classic look at an American family in failure mode.”
All the performances are terrific but standout is Jennifer Garner as Sandy, the unstable mother. She starts twitchy and by the time things get rolling escalates to full voiced neurotic histrionics. Garner goes deep and dark to capture Sandy’s helpless rage perfectly at an intensity that she has not explored before onscreen.
The film moves at an unhurried pace, taking time to fully invest in the situation that Jim and Medina must navigate as they suffer the consequences of their parents’ self absorbed decisions. This is a classic look at an American family in failure mode with echos of The Ice Storm and American Beauty.
The Tribes of Palos Verdes (2017). Directed by Brendan Malloy, Emmett Malloy. Written by Karen Croner based on the novel by Joy Nicholson. Starring Maika Monroe, Cody Fern, Jennifer Garner.
7 out of 10