THE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES — Review by Cate Marquis

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TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES POSTERTHE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES is a drama about a family recently transplanted from the down-to-earth Midwest to the gated suburban beach community of Palos Verdes, California. It immerses the family in a kind of culture shock and only dad Phil (Justin Kirk), a cardiac surgery, is enthusiastic about the move. Nonetheless, mom Sandy (Jennifer Garner) and teen-aged fraternal twins Medina (Maika Monroe) and Jim (Cody Fern) are trying to make the best of it. Continue reading…

Medina is the central character and sometimes narrator in this family drama, which opens with a tone of foreboding. Medina is the family’s problem child, the one who gets in trouble at school, and she is only close to her twin Jim. Jim is the popular kid everyone loves but he gives unwavering support to his twin sister. Relocation to this insulated California suburbia upends the family dynamics. While their new house is nothing special, it is right on the ocean and the kids quickly discover surfing, both a way to fit in and an escape.

Jennifer Garner delivers a strong, surprising performance in an unusual role for her, as the neurotic, insecure mother Sandy. Sandy feels out of place with the tennis-playing, superficial women of the country club but makes an effort to fit in, no matter how vapid they seem to her. Already stressed, Garner’s Sandy goes into complete meltdown when her husband becomes involved with another woman (Alicia Silverstone).

Karen Croner’s script takes the family in unexpected directions but the relationships and changes always ring turn. While the twins take refuge is surfing, stepping into the ocean just outside their backdoor, Sandy has no such escape. Ultimately, their mom’s emotional unraveling takes its toll on Jim and Medina, as well as their changing relationship with their father. Both Maika Monroe as Medina and Cody Fern as Jim turn in moving performances. The photography is appealing as the frame for this sometimes searing drama. Particularly the surfing footage evokes a sense of place as well as the calming effect of immersion in the natural world offers.

THE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES evolves into a more involving and emotionally true film than one expects at first, a drama that reveals insights into how people are shaped by family.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.