Sixteen-year-old Charlotte spends a listless summer day on her own, seemingly left to her own devices and untethered from any structure or responsibility.
She goes off to do laundry, and encounters an older guy, Tommy. The two seem to connect, and Tommy helps Charlotte to escape her isolation and loneliness. But during one misadventure at night, Tommy betrays Charlotte, underscoring just how alone she is in the world. Charlotte then must make a choice, deciding what’s truly important to her.
Writer-director Jamie Dack’s evocative short drama subtly evokes the awkward, tentative yet fierce longing for connection in this exploration of adolescent romantic intrigue, desire and loneliness.
The scope of the short, which premiered at Cannes, is firmly focused on Charlotte, establishing the emptiness of her small, mundane world. Using very little dialogue, the film’s camerawork and sound design captures the quotidian textures and sounds surrounding Charlotte, with a poetic eye and ear for precise, striking detail, from the panting of a dog to the bareness of her front yard.
The setting could seemingly be anywhere in suburban America, and many other young people ravenous for experience and meaning, Charlotte feels adrift and unrooted in this seemingly sunny world. One of the most intriguing shots of the film — of Charlotte listlessly pushing at her dinner as a glimpse of a family member fills the background — is seemingly one of the most random, and yet it says so much about Charlotte’s life, and how she feels marginal and untethered even in her own home.
When Tommy enters the picture, however, viewers see instantly how he — and the possibility of attraction — add a frisson of excitement to Charlotte’s life, which seems to spark a more adventurous and open side to her character. Charlotte isn’t passive or even afraid, revealing herself as someone who grasps at the opportunities in front of her. She takes a risk, and initiates a more sustained encounter with Tommy, which unfurls a beautifully hopeful revelation from her. But despite her shy bravura, she still finds herself in a situation out of her control — and faced with the bald truth of Tommy’s character.
Beautiful and powerfully sad at the same time, “Palm Trees and Power Lines” takes a classic coming-of-age narrative and subtly spins it into a snapshot of one girl trying to find an anchor in a transient, disconnected world. The performances by Alyssa Latson and Philip Alexander as Charlotte and Tommy, respectively, are perfectly calibrated towards understatement, almost as if they’re two people floating in the currents of life who have casually bumped into one another, and may keep each other company until another current pulls them in different directions.
It’s a portrayal of human relations that emphasizes how provisional and almost haphazard relationships can be, and how fragile they are when it comes to alleviating our fundamental aloneness in life. And yet — as Charlotte discovers — that void of loneliness is so strong and pervasive that we often grasp at them anyway, despite knowing how weak they may be at their core.