Jennifer Garner Delivers a Stunning Performance in ‘The Tribes of Palos Verdes’

Among the clashing shores of the Southern L.A. County border lies the quiet surfing suburbia Palos Verdes. Homes with tiled roofs line the private beaches where the wealthy remain in status quo. The tranquil shores become a rather harsh setting for the Mason family as they collapse at the pulse of drugs, affairs, and betrayal in “The Tribes of Palos Verdes.”

The coming-of-age story centers around 17-year-old Medina Mason (Maika Monroe, “It Follows”) as she finds solace in surfing to deal with her breaking family. Struggling to fit in, Medina attempts to find her tribe in the locals who cruise the waters. But for her twin brother, Jim (Aussie newcomer Cody Fern), the pressure to fit in leads him down a darker path of drugs and addiction.

The two attend sea-cliff parties on the bluffs where Jim does any drunken act he can in order to impress the Bayboys who monopolize the local beach. Jim desperately seeks approval, but Medina is less than amused. She doesn’t like the way her brother is adapting in order to fit in. By the time she attempts to change him, it is too late. The two have a rich sibling dynamic, but an obstacle that derives in the form of a blossoming love interest for Medina puts a wedge into their sibling trust.

Perhaps more attractive to the Southern California drama than its idyllic setting is the performance handed in by its lead, Jennifer Garner. For the actress, it is quite possibly her most realized role. Weathering away in the confines of her beautifully decorated seaside abode, Sandy (Garner), the matriarch of the Mason family, anxiously paces the halls in a self-medicated stupor. Surrounded by the well-together housewives of Palos Verdes and feeling less than confident about her body, Sandy realizes that her husband, Phil (Justin Kirk), is cheating on her with a younger and more attractive trophy wife.

Her most appealing scenes draw from the raw vulnerability that Garner provides as her insecurities get the best of her. She slowly watches the walls of her life collapse upon her. Her shining scene comes at the film’s end when she collapses to her knees in the Pacific Ocean as she realizes the real ramifications brought upon by her less-than-desirable addictions. In the scene, the camera struggles to stay afloat above the clashing water – an appropriate visual to encapsulate her drowning emotional state. It is quite possibly her own addiction that inspired her son to follow suit.

IFC acquired the film after its premiere at the Hamptons Film Festival in October. Based on the 1997 young adult novel of the same name by Joy Nicholson, the script, penned by Karen Croner (“Admission”), is slightly hollow to be considered as award-season bait. However, the direction, beautifully sculpted by Brendan Malloy and Emmett Malloy, elevates the film by applying a moody and atmospherically-transic wave. The directing duo’s music video resume is quite evident as slow-motion imagery mixed with extreme close-up profiles occupy much of the runtime. But for the theme of the picture, it all works in symmetry.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes’ opens Dec. 1 in limited release and VOD.