When Jamie Dack’s Palm Trees and Power Lines premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it was against the backdrop of a roiling and mostly insufferable online debate about “age gap,” coinciding with social media discovering P.T. Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. That film famously features a romantic, albeit nonsexual, entanglement between a preternaturally self-assured 15-year-old boy and a driftless woman in her twenties, presented largely in a comedic, judgment-free context. Unlikely to suffer the same levels of “discourse,” Palm Trees and Power Lines also depicts a relationship between a high school student and an adult, but the tone is unmistakably more fraught. It treats the problematic nature of the coupling as the basic premise, even while touching the third rail of dramatizing statutory rape. The film takes its characters, as well as the viewer, to some extraordinarily dark places, acknowledging the predatory underpinnings of the relationship, before concluding on a note as quietly despairing as any film in recent memory. But what truly chills the blood here is how the film presents an adolescent in a going-nowhere situation, wrapping up her entire sense of self-worth in the affections of an older man, and how readily he wields kindness and the attention she’s starved for at home to break her spirit and bind her to him.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 9.