Review

Coastal fog smothers domestic drama 'The Tribes of Palos Verdes'

The waves are elusive in “The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” a moody, disjointed tale of Southern California family dysfunction based on Joy Nicholson’s bestselling novel.

The Masons are Midwestern transplants to the high-toned, ultra-regulated suburban cliquishness of the sun-kissed coastal city. But what follows for them is a different kind of exposure: star cardiologist dad (Justin Kirk) instantly starts a marriage-ending affair, leaving his medicated, lonely and unacclimated wife Sandy (Jennifer Garner) an unstable guardian for their close-knit teenage twins Medina (the appealing Maika Monroe), who turns to surfing as escape, and Jim (Cody Fern), who falls in with a crowd of drug-abusing toughs.

Karen Croner’s screenplay is more a collection of vibes than a clinical tragedy, pitched toward emo-soundtrack-ready sensitivity and over-explanatory narration (a task given to Monroe). But the primary problem is that it’s a foggy, unsurprising skim in the hands of music-video/cable-doc stalwarts Emmett and Brendan Malloy. The directors get some melancholic atmosphere out of their visuals but don’t have the scene sense to build their actors’ committed performances into compelling through-lines of seaside personality disintegration.

Medina’s finding of herself in the ocean is an airy commercial more than a story line, while Garner’s gamely acted swings in Sandy’s temperament play like showpiece snippets of crazy instead of the building blocks for an archetype — the isolated, on-the-brink woman — long overdue for sympathetic rescue from “Real Housewives”-style humiliation.

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‘The Tribes of Palos Verdes’

Rating: R for drug use, some sexual content and language throughout

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West L.A.

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