Palm Trees and Power Lines Review: Lily McInerny in Coming-of-Age Tale

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Sundance: Filmmaker Jamie Dack is developing her award-winning short of the same name for an uncomfortable and very real look at growing up.

Léa knows the difference between evil and good. False: the way guys treat his mother. False: His friends miss their bill at a local restaurant. Fake: getting into a stranger’s truck. But, as has always been the human condition – and in the case of Jamie Dack’s uncomfortably honest “Palm Trees and Power Lines”, the teenager human condition – knowing is only half the battle, and Lea (a breakout Lily McInerny in a notable first feature role) is about to endure quite a battle indeed. Dack, who makes his film debut developing his award-winning 2018 short of the same name, uses a familiar tale to shed new light on the coming-of-age drama, and though many of the film’s beats are predictable , this often speaks to the bewildering universality of the story in question.

Not much is happening in Lea’s life when we first meet her. Caught in the liminal space of a suburban high school summer—no school to worry about, but plenty of adult decisions looming—she spends her days listening to music, wandering her dusty neighborhood, and hanging out with her lively boyfriend Amber (Quinn Frankel). Her mother (a heartbreaking Gretchen Mol) isn’t exactly a stellar role model, often sleeping past her waking hour (it’s Lea trying to wake her up), and her father is nowhere to be found. Boys her age are self-obsessed, silly, even boring, and while Lea isn’t inexperienced when it comes to sex, it doesn’t seem like something she particularly enjoys, she turns to it instead. like another sleepy pastime.

Nothing, it seems, is going to change. Until everything does. On a night like any other—Amber, the boring boys, a fries-laden trip to the restaurant—Lea’s obvious moral compass is upended. It’s the night the boys duck out of the checkout, the night Lea goes out of her way to keep them from giving up, the night she’s nearly manhandled by a justly pissed off cook and waitress. It’s the night she meets Tom (Jonathan Tucker). The power dynamic between the pair is clear from the start, long before we realize the buff stranger is indeed twice Lea’s age (or, at least, the age she’s willing to tell him). , long before Lea allowed herself to realize how great it is. When Tom saves her from angry restaurant staff, it sets in motion something new and, for Lea at least, very welcome: someone who can protect her, someone who is by her side, someone of different.

The path is set as the couple begin to spend more time together, Lea’s reluctance to get into Tom’s truck has been so gently sanded off that neither she nor the audience are likely to spot the exact moment she relents . Whether Lea and Tom’s relationship ranges from inappropriate and likely illegal to poisonous and toxic is never in question, at least to audiences, but Dack’s film manages to weave through familiar film grammar and patterns to deliver a drama that always hits hard. . And that Dack ends the film with a final blow speaks to his interest in subverting expectations, even if “Palm Trees and Power Lines” sometimes slips through.

Dack and cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj shot the film in the flat, airless colors of the suburban mall, though the look and feel of the film comes alive in moments when Lea herself sparkles, a sunny trip to the beach with Tom on a date at a hotel that, from Lea’s perspective, isn’t dirty (oh, but it is) and feels magical and romantic. Such is the tension of the film, as this back-and-forth between creepy, dreamy rattles builds through a somewhat meandering second act, with Lea seeing things one way, and the rest of us seeing the things completely differently.

As the red flags continue to fly, McInerny maintains remarkable control over Lea. You’ll want to scream at the screen, but the young actress is so invested in her character that you also can’t help but look forward to whatever she does next, terrifying as that may be. Throughout the film, Dack and his telltale star vacillate through shifting, black-and-white, yes-and-no concepts that only become more jarring and tense as “Palm Trees and Power Lines” unfolds. You might know where it’s going, but Dack and McInerny make sure you can’t predict what you’ll feel, good or bad.

Category B-

“Palm Trees and Power Lines” premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking release.

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