January 23, 2022

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance 2022 Reviews: “Palm Trees and Power Lines,” “Am I OK?” and “Lucy and Desi”


PALM TREES AND POWER LINES (no distrib):  Jamie Dack’s first feature film (from a script written with Audrey Findlay) means to unsettle, and it does.  17-year old Lea (Lily McInerny) is stuck in a dead-end Southern California beach town at the end of summer with a distracted single mom (Gretchen Mol) and friends whose loyalty is suspect, and when she happens onto Tom (Jonathan Tucker), the fact that he’s double her age doesn’t give her pause.  Tom isn’t much, but by the standards around her he’s charming and downright sophisticated, and his being a worldly adult man who’s into her is a turn-on.  For the audience, it’s clear that Tom is a creep and a groomer–the question is whether he’s even worse than that.  Dack’s camera keeps a neutral distance from its characters (the photography is by Chananun Chotrungro), the exact opposite of the lurid style of something like Euphoria, which touches on similar material.  This approach, while less viscerally arresting, lures us into Lea’s one bad decision after another.  Dack has a clear understanding of the intensity of the “power lines” that aren’t visible in the town’s landscape.  The third act of the film is difficult to watch, with the sickening pull of a nightmare, while the very end may go too far, and will certainly create controversy.  All the way through, though, Dack shows a mastery of her subject matter, and the unadorned performances are exactly right.  (I found myself concerned for the actress, let alone the character.)   Palm Trees and Power Lines is far from a crowd-pleaser, but it deserves to be seen, and one hopes an enterprising streamer or indie will take it on.

AM I OK? (no distrib):  Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s highly enjoyable directing debut is about coming out and moving away, but mostly it’s about friendship.  The reportedly semi-autobiographical script by Lauren Pomerantz gives us Lucy (Dakota Johnson, on a Sundance roll) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno, from the far more somber Devs), friends forever who’ve reached simultaneous crossroads in their lives.  Marketing exec Jane has been offered a big step up in her career that requires her to move to London, while Lucy, after a lifetime of less than enthusiastic heterosexuality, is coming to terms with the fact that she’s actually gay.  Each of them needs to lean on the other, but also to deal with her own issues, which leads to crossed signals and a fraying of their lifelong bonds.  Pomerantz’s script makes the character points clear but never forgets that it’s a comedy, while Notaro and Allynne give the material a breezy pace and a commercial (in a good way) sheen.  Johnson and Mizuno have all the necessary chemistry together to be believable as BFFs, and each accomplishes an opposite that changes the way we see them as actresses:  Johnson that she can combine her rom-com charm with emotional depth, and Mizuno that Alex Garland projects notwithstanding, she’s very funny.  The sharp supporting cast includes Jermaine Fowler as Jane’s longtime boyfriend, Molly Gordon as her office friend, and Kiersey Clemons as Lucy’s crush, as well as a brief but amusing bit from Notaro herself.  Am I OK? is about as much fun as they allow in Sundance, and it should find a fair number of fans.

LUCY AND DESI (Amazon – March 4):  Amy Poehler’s debut as a documentarian is a loving and celebratory, if not exactly probing, salute to the comedy couple of the moment, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.  (It’s by no means coincidental that Amazon, the studio and streaming service behind Being the Ricardos, is premiering the documentary in the middle of Oscar voting season.)  The glory of Lucy and Desi is the font of amazing footage that’s been unearthed and painstakingly restored, not just from I Love Lucy and Ball’s other shows, but the big-screen studio product they made before TV, as well as home movies and archive tidbits like a Desilu shareholders meeting presided over by Ball.  Poehler is much more interested in Ball and Arnaz’s love story than in any scandal or even any meaningful shortcomings on their parts.  Although most of the events in Being the Ricardos are touched upon (and their chronology is more accurately portrayed), their representation is a more sanitized version of a story that had already been somewhat tidied up.  Luci and Desi isn’t the place to go for details on the rockier side of the titular relationship, as such problems are here acknowledged mostly as a sign of both of them being overworked.  On its own terms, though, the film is a trove of memorable moments and an affectionate tribute to a pair who changed the path of popular entertainment.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."