The actors — especially Jennifer Garner and Maika Monroe as mother and daughter of a dysfunctional family — are energized, but the filmmaking never rises to the level of their nuanced performances.
When Medina Mason (Maika Monroe) begins to tell her family’s story in “The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” they have just made a fresh start in paradise — Palos Verdes, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles. While her mother, Sandy (Jennifer Garner), struggles to adjust to their new neighbors’ plastic smiles, Medina’s father, Phil (Justin Kirk), decides to move on, leaving Medina and her twin brother, Jim (newcomer Cody Fern), in their mother’s increasingly unstable care.
Directed by brothers Brendan and Emmett Malloy, “The Tribes of Palos Verdes” portrays the cultish fixations that can arise within volatile families. As the mother forces the weight of her sadness onto her son, the father pushes his daughter to be his advocate with his estranged wife, and the son projects his anxiety onto his sister. As Medina’s world churns, she takes up surfing, which gives her the only head cool enough to narrate this tale of family dysfunction.
It is the film’s great fortune that the Masons are portrayed by an exceptional team of actors, starting with Monroe, who is the calm eye at the center of the storm. The bellows of this tempest come from Garner, who ably depicts the demanding neediness of the vulnerable matriarch. Yet the Malloys’ filmmaking never rises to the level of the actors’ nuanced performances. The actors are energized, but the camera enervates. The colors have been bled from the California sunshine, and the camera alternates wanly between shaky close-ups and indifferent establishing shots. In “The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” even the sea seems stifled.
‘The Tribes of Palos Verdes,’ with Maika Monroe, Cody Fern, Jennifer Garner, Justin Kirk, Noah Silver. Directed by Brendan Malloy and Emmett Malloy, from a screenplay by Karen Croner, based on a novel by Joy Nicholson. 104 minutes. Rated R for drug use, language throughout and some sexual content. Varsity.
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