Palm Trees and Power Lines Movie Review: A Disturbingly Common Premise Given a Modern Feel

There are lots of films about the harsh realities of young adulthood, with emphasis on broken family dynamics, first love, the influence of technology, the usual boredom, and the unknowingness of wondering what to do the rest of one’s life. First-time filmmaker Jamie Dack’s 2022 Palm Trees and Power Lines takes all of these beats and adds something very painful and sinister underneath the surface.

Lea (Lily McInerny) is a 17-year-old disconnected teenage girl spending her summer drifting in complete boredom. She constantly hangs out with her more energetic best friend Amber (Quinn Frankel) and a group of random guys, drinks beer, constantly stares at her phone, fights with her mom (Gretchen Mol), and hooks up with a male “friend” in the back seat of a car. One night, after the boys leave her and Amber stuck with a diner bill, they both run out, hoping to avoid paying it. An understandably angry cook confronts and grabs her, until a handsome and well-built stranger named Tom (Jonathan Tucker) saves her. Amber runs away, while Lea goes in the opposite direction. While walking home, Tom follows her in his truck and offers her a ride. She gets in (which sends the plot in motion and creates so many red flags).

This starts off an icky relationship between the two of them, considering that he’s in his 30’s, but Lea doesn’t seem to mind, thinking that this knight in shining armor could be the solution to her many troubles. However, all that charm and good looks masks something quite sinister, where she gets herself into a situation that will change her life forever.

Connecting back with my first paragraph, we have seen stories like this in films and in real life: good-looking strangers insinuating themselves into the lives of bored women (including younger girls), but Dack brings a dark irony to it all. Yes, Lea is not completely likeable, but when she starts seeing and dating Tom, you are afraid for her safety. You know that this shouldn’t be happening, but at the same time, you find yourself happy for her finally finding someone who really understands her. But make no mistake, you know that things aren’t going to end well for her, especially when Tom asks her to do the unthinkable.

It’s also a squirm-inducingly honest depiction of toxic men’s power over women. They use their good looks, charisma, and way with words to control the situation at hand. Some of those women see right through it, while others unfortunately fall under the spell.

A cautionary tale like this needs the right actors to pull it off, and McInerny definitely nails Lea’s predicament. Like I said, Lea isn’t downright sympathetic, but McInerny is so incredibly believable that you are genuinely scared for her, but also intrigued by what she does next. I was also very impressed by Tucker, who is an actor that I’ve seen in many things, but I think that Tom is a role he was destined to play. He gives the character a lethal sexiness that makes you feel undone. You understand why Lea would fall for him, even when you know that he’s no good.

There is a good role for Mol, who plays Lea’s mom (who is not exactly a solid parental figure). She is rather clueless to know what’s really going on, but she has her own issues to deal with. In this case, she represents a reality of how many parents really are. They don’t exactly questions of what their child or children are actually doing when they’re not around, and I think that Mol did that quite well. She was always an underrated actress, so it’s great to see her in a role that exposes her considerable talents.

This may be a first-time film for Dack, but I think she has a good career of directing ahead of her. She takes a disturbingly common premise and it gives a modern feel. She doesn’t allow any easy answers, nor that she must. She’s made a film that is realistically troubling, but one that should get people talking, like most honest ones do.

Palm Trees and Power Lines will receive a limited theatrical release and will also be available on VOD March 3rd.

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