The Tribes of Palos Verdes, screenplay by Karen Croner, based on book by Joy Nicholson
The Tribes of Palos Verdes is an entertaining motion picture, although the viewers and the critics are right when they do not rate this offering very highly, for most of the story is familiar and it seems little- if anything- is new in this narrative.
The Masons move from- was it Minnesota?- to the beautiful, sunny, resplendent, splendid, radiant, luminous Palos Verdes, that seems as close as a land can get to a Paradise on Earth.
One of the main benefits that can be extracted from this feature is that it demonstrates the Psychology principle of Hedonic Adaptation and the falseness of the illusory California Myth, whereby people think that if they would only move to California, they would become the happiest humans on earth.
The reality- like the scenario in The Tribes of Palos Verdes- is different and the research shows that once people settle in California- and for that matter in almost any other place: a paradisiac Caribbean island, Bucharest, whatever- they Adapt to the sun, the sand, spectacular palm trees and mesmerizing ocean and start complaining about pollution, traffic jams, the severe drought and more.
Medina Mason aka Maika Monroe is the main character of this film, the daughter of Sandy and Phil, but most attached to her brother, Jim Mason, who is the archetypal teenager confronting issues like drug addiction, difficulty in dealing with drama that takes place in the family.
Jim Mason is a talented, appreciated doctor who loves it in California; he makes a lot of money, enjoys membership in an exclusive club, plays tennis and would slowly move away from his wife and family.
Sandy Mason aka Jennifer Garner is not just disappointed with Palos Verdes, but she experiences more than the aforementioned Hedonic Adaptation and her mental health is deteriorating, in part because of her husband’s attitude, but there is also a feeling that maybe it was Sandy, with her outré behavior that encouraged the spouse to look for solace in the arms of another woman.
Jim Mason is having an affair with Ava aka Alicia Silverstone and he is making a strange, inappropriate move when he talks to his daughter and asks her support in breaking the news of the upcoming separation to her mother.
The man even says that we are maybe not meant to live with the same person for the entire life- and those who experience serious marital trouble would agree with him- and explains that his partner has a son and he wants Medina to meet with them.
The fact that the girl keeps in contact with her father makes her a “bête noire” in the eyes of her mother and brother, the latter even punches his parent when the family conflict reaches a nadir and he is totally on the side of the wife in this terrible fight.
Sandy has a few breakdowns, tries to keep the father of the children within their household, resorting to humble begging and violent hatred in turn, talking about the “twenty years she fucked him”, the viciousness of this affair and the evident absurdity of the move all the way to California, to which the husband replies that she wanted to have a Mercedes and a good life.
In one other scene, the infuriated, abandoned wife drives to the club, where her spouse is playing double tennis, in the same team with Ava, his new partner, and the angry woman is shouting on the field, attracting the attention of the players and all the nearby onlookers, using very harsh words for the “despicable „woman who will see that she is just one in a long line of adventures…
Medina has lunch with her father, Ava and her son, Adrian, who is an interesting activist, a lover of animals who would later take the protagonist to the beach, where seals are released back into the sea, after having been kept for some months and fed enough to face life in the wild again.
After an unhappy sexual encounter, very close to a rape, in the camper of a surfer, the rapprochement with Adrian is much better; the two have a good chemistry and rapport, even if in a bizarre way, the closeness with the brother is the one that would continue, when all others are over.
Medina accuses her mother and says that she exaggerates in her closeness to Jim, who is treated like a husband, in what looks indeed too much like an embarrassing, if not outright incestuous, Oedipal relationship, but in her turn, the sister appears to be too close to her brother.
Jim runs into trouble because of his use of drugs, pills that he takes and those bring him on a hospital bed, in very serious condition and furthermore, suspected to be the arsonist responsible for the burning down of houses in the neighborhood, after he uses flares to incendiary effect at his own home.
In other words, the narrative of the film offers twists and surprises, but the overall effect is not enough to make this a memorable motion picture that would stay with you for long…
Or maybe it will…