This bold, semi-autobiographical debut from American director Jamie Dack is a tense coming-of-age drama that navigates the insidious and all too real threat of stranger danger.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Set in a dreamy California summer, 17-year-old high school student Lea (newcomer Lily McInerny) fills her days sunbathing, hanging with friends, and wallowing in teen girl ennui. Living with her single mother—who is distracted by her own rotating roster of “friends”—Lea’s late nights out lead to an encounter with the charming Tom (Jonathan Tucker), a handsome 34-year-old who takes notice of her in a local diner. Offering her a ride home, Lea’s light-hearted delivery of the oft-repeated “don’t get into cars with strangers” leaves you wishing she would take her own advice. Acting the kind, thoughtful, and protective good guy, Tom’s subtle and persistent manipulation of Lea plays directly to her teenage naïveté, exploiting her loneliness and desire to be special in order to fulfil his own grim intentions.
Based on her 2018 short film of the same name, Palm Trees and Power Lines took home the U.S. Dramatic Competition Directing Award at Sundance last year, well deserved for Dack’s graceful handling of the gritty subject matter that ensures Lea serves as more than a Lolita. Helmed by an all-female creative team, including director of photography Chananun Chotrungroj, even the film’s most harrowing scenes avoid exploitation while maintaining their gut-punch. Audiences may well find themselves yelling to Lea through the screen, urging her to make the decision any sensible adult would. But this is where Dack’s writing and directing shines; portraying the world through Lea’s eyes, not those of the grown-ups in the room. — Kailey Carruthers