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The Tribes of Palos Verdes Review

The Tribes of Palos Verdes is a 2017 drama about a young woman who attempts to surf her way to happiness when her idyllic Palos Verdes home turns volatile.

The idea that paradise is another word for hell certainly has long roots in literature and film, the notion that to be free and live with all the real luxuries offered has great cost. So it is in Palos Verdes, the setting of Brendan and Emmett Malloy‘s latest coming-of-age drama, a slow, heavy tale of internal destruction that glides along a familiar path, lifted by a collection of terrific performances.

Medina (Maika Monroe) is just sixteen, a blonde girl (which has some significance) with a twin brother named Jim (Cody Fern), the two recently moved to the California utopia of Palos Verdes with their parents, Phil (Justin Kirk) and Sandy (Jennifer Garner). Phil is a highly successful cardiologist, who is establishing himself with the local weathlies and celebrities. He’s dragged withering Sandy along with him to this toxic culture, she on a cocktail of sedatives and such that have utterly failed to keep her balance as she struggles with the fakery of it all, having to wear tiny tennis outfits and look pretty wherever she goes. Meanwhile, Jim wants to be accepted by the popular guys in the oceanfront community, going to extremes to get in with the crowd. Media, at the center of it all, is drawn to the waves, longing to be a surfer, and she and Jim soon work their way into the rules of the local surfers, where she finds her only true solace.

Based upon the novel of the same name by Joy Nicholson, The Tribes of Palos Verdes sets out from the start to be a washed out story of desperately broken people who as a group only infect each other in worsening degrees. Much like Noah Baumbach‘s The Squid and the Whale, it centers on children entangled in the volcanic devastation of their parent’s demise. As Sandy hurdles headfirst into a psychotic break as Phil betrays her at nearly every turn, she depends on her children to keep her sane, failing to recognize they are the greater victims in this implosion. This all leaves Medina the only point of contact on the ground where the shaky top is spinning as she navigates these uncharted waters, trying to patch holes too big to fill.

Monroe is very good, the anchor for this pendulum that admittedly swings wide from unnervingly raw to somewhat contrived. All around her is chaos, and Monroe is unflinchingly authentic throughout. Garner is also strong, certainly doing unhinged well, allowing herself to go to places that could redefine her career, creating a character that wins our sympathies early before souring them later. Alicia Silverstone shows up briefly as well, though it’s mostly a blink. There’s really not a bad performance in the film, even if many are allotted to very specific roles.

That’s really the central issue, if there is to be one, The Tribes of Palos Verdes carefully constructed to be what it is, losing the organicness it seems to strive for. The peaks and valleys play out like a pop tune and while many strike with great effect, some feel unearned. Nonetheless, it’s a well-made and genuinely moving story that might play it close to the chest in terms of taking larger risks, but does well what it intends to.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes Review

Movie description: The Tribes of Palos Verdes is a 2017 drama about a young woman who attempts to surf her way to happiness when her idyllic Palos Verdes home turns volatile.

Director(s): Brendan Malloy, Emmett Malloy

Actor(s): Maika Monroe, Cody Fern, Jennifer Garner

  • Our Score
User Rating 5 (1 vote)
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