What is Witty Watching?

Palm Trees and Power Lines – Movie Review (Sundance Film Festival)
March 3, 2023

Synopsis: A disconnected teenage girl enter a relationship with a man twice her age. She sees him as the solution to all her problems, but his intentions are not what they seem.
Director: Jamie Dack
Stars: Lil McInerny, Jonathan Tucker, Gretchen Mol

In 2018 Jamie Dack shot a short film called Palm Trees and Power Lines. The success of the short motivated her to make a full-length feature film. This was my “Best film of 2022,” and it’s good to see it finally getting its release.

The film introduces us to Lea, played by newcomer Lily McInerny, who is hanging out with a group of friends, but she doesn’t seem to fit in. She has a boyfriend, but when they have sex, she is interested in anything but him. Lea’s single mother, Sandra (Gretchen Mol), just can’t connect with her seventeen-year-old daughter.

One night Lea and her friends are at a restaurant and her friends decide to ‘dine and dash,’ in other words, leave without paying. Lea is reluctant to partake in this. She hesitates and is caught by one of the staff.

As she is pulled back into the restaurant, a ‘night in shining armour type shows up to assist. The ‘hero’ Tom (Jonathan Tucker) is twice Lea’s age, but they develop a friendship. The two start spending time together. It isn’t long before their friendship becomes something more romantic.

Tom understands the insecurities of a teenager and does everything he can to put her mind at ease. He wants to ‘get to know her’ and ‘makes her feel special’ by spending time with her. He isn’t doing this for her as much as he is doing it for himself.

You soon realize Tom is very calculating and much wiser than the insecure, inexperienced Lea. Everything he does has meaning, from how he treats her to where he takes her. He isn’t rushing anything; he wants her to build a level of comfort with him.

As this movie develops, you realize this isn’t a coming-of-age story. It doesn’t explore whether men and women can be friends; what Dack has in store for us is something much more horrific.

Like in a nightmare, you want to scream (in this case at the screen), but nothing comes out.

Jamie Dack has written and developed an excellent film. It is not an easy watch, but that’s what makes it so powerful. The horror that occurs in the movie is as real as it gets. Drawing on her own personal examples, Dack tells a story that feels very authentic.

She is also a patient filmmaker and allows the story to develop. In one scene, a waitress asks Lea if she’s ok. Lea doesn’t understand the concern, but the woman recognizes Tom, which signals to the audience his intentions. Dack drops little foreshadowing nuggets like this throughout the story.

Lily McInerny delivers a captivating performance as Lea. She captures the essence of adolescence, and her character speaks to a group of people who sometimes feel lost and don’t fit in.

Dack stated that she wanted someone unknown in the role, and she got that in McInerny, who blows us away with her performance. Every aspect of her performance is believable. As the protagonist, we feel what she feels in this film: her happiness, her insecurity; and at one point, it’s as if the audience ascends to the coach’s booth and watches the field from an aerial view.

You can see what will happen, but you can’t warn Lea. You want to yell ‘Run’ or ‘Don’t go to the basement,’ but all you can do is watch.

Jonathan Tucker does a remarkable job in this film. Many will remember seeing him in the show Kingdom. In that role, he played a mixed martial arts fighter. He transformed his body and became a student of the sport. He does his research for a role, that is something that he excels in. Clearly, he had another transformation of sorts to become Tom. His performance is subtle but still frightening. The methodical approach to this character is exactly how it should be played and once again Tucker delivers a performance that deserves recognition.

The story develops so incredibly well and you are hit with a gut punch in the third act that will take your breath away. In addition the cinematography, the score, the pacing, it all works to further this incredible film.

For a first-time filmmaker, I was beyond impressed. Dack has sent a blueprint for emerging filmmakers. Make a short, then learn what worked and what didn’t and expand upon it.

This movie deals with sensitive subject material and that should be considered before viewing but the film should and will foster some meaningful conversation.

Palm Trees and Power Lines should be required viewing. Dack has reached rarified territory with this film. In her debut she has brought to the screen an incredible piece of film cinema that solidifies the fact that you don’t need a multi-million dollar budget to make an exceptional movie.

Grade: A

Where can you find Witty?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *