Review by Joseph Fayed
Stories involving grooming or any type of uncomfortable age gap between romantic partners tend not to capture the complicated feelings and pressures one involved in this type of relationship is inclined to feel. Palm Trees and Power Lines seems to be one of the exceptions and serves as a cautionary tale for many youth.
The film follows Lea, a teenager living in California who has a chance encounter with an older man named Tom. The two secretly begin a relationship that for various reasons begins to unravel and brings tension into Lea's life. The film is based on a short film previously made by writer-director Jamie Dack.
Despite the implications of the relationship at its core, there is a method to the storytelling that allows you to see the protagonist Lea roll with the punches for most of the screen time. Her innocence and vulnerability define her character and Tom allows both of those to be socially isolated all to himself. Tom instills a false sense of hope, and her newfound satisfaction allows her to turn a blind eye to what is really going on.
Lily McInerny, who plays Lea, gives an impressive film debut here. Jonathan Tucker, who plays Tom, really sinks his teeth into his role. The two lead performances accelerate how naiveté and manipulation intersect when it comes to grooming. While the end result may be depressing to some, it's the power dynamic built upon trust and lies that leads us to a sorrowful conclusion. And it sadly does not feature Chris Hansen of To Catch a Predator fame.
When we do see Lea interacting with others like her friends or her mostly distant mom, we begin to see her grow more detached from anyone who isn't Tom. One scene features a concerned woman approaching Lea to ask if she's okay while out with Tom on a date. It doesn't feel so out of place when Lea watches her life spiral out of control and realize that a giant red flag has been waving at her for weeks.
Palm Trees and Power Lines is a retelling of a tragic tale of tainted love. I wouldn't consider it groundbreaking by any means, but it does tell a series of events in a short timespan where there isn't much self-reflection going on in the life of our young protagonist. Lea is still figuring out her own life and the film doesn't cast any judgment on her for that, which I appreciated.
Palm Trees and Power Lines is now in theaters and on VOD.