Lovely Atmosphere and an Electrifying Jennifer Garner Distinguish “The Tribes of Palos Verdes”

A coming-of-age film about young California stoners and their adulterous parents


This languid, lyric adaptation of Joy Nicholson’s novel about coming of age in a spectacular broken home at first pulses with promise. The directors, the music video pros Emmett Malloy and Brendan Malloy, demonstrate an effective command of teenagers’ moody reveries, following toothsome twins (the excellent Maika Monroe and Cody Fern) as they acclimate to the swank beach town of Palos Verdes, California, where their family has relocated as their parents’ marriage combusts. The Pacific crashes just below their back patio, and the teens take up surfing in sequences that capture, with a sun-in-your-hair indie-pop soundtrack, the pleasures of steadily developing a skill. One twin slides into drugs, though the cautionary aspects of the story lose some power thanks to the directors’ pleasing evocation of a stoned Cali life.

Meanwhile, the twins’ mother (Jennifer Garner) is losing it, haunting their beach palace in her bathrobe, suspecting their cardiologist father (Justin Kirk) of cheating. Garner’s character rages at him, this actress who so often is asked to play a sort of generic idea of white America niceness getting the chance to chainsaw. That’s the film’s second distinguishing factor: Garner erupts and expectorates with winning zeal, swatting tennis balls at the mistress and lambasting the very idea of Palos Verdes beauty regimens. “I have the perfect anti-aging solution,” she declares early on. “It’s called death.” Her character turns manic once her husband leaves the family. The heartsick glee of her exclamation, “We could get a gazebo!” is all by itself reason enough to see the movie. The younger performers also are strong, but the last hour of the film is often slack, with too few sharp scenes amid the sun-and-sea vignettes.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes
Directed by Emmett Malloy and Brendan Malloy
IFC Films
Opens December 1, IFC Center
Available on demand