The terrifying story of a teenage girl groomed for sex trafficking – Rolling Stone

by Jamie Dack Palm trees and power lines it’s losing a person. In the end, her 17-year-old heroine Lea (played by a tall Lily McInerny) seems lost to herself, unsure of who to be. It’s the summer before his senior year. Trouble begins with a chance encounter with an older man, Tom (Jonathan Tucker), who is twice Lea’s age but interested in her nonetheless. That’s just how it starts. Palm trees is a film about an unsuspecting young woman groomed into sex work by a charming 34-year-old man. He starts off on the right foot, as a knight in shining armor during an insignificant restaurant scrape, and works his way into her affections with experienced patience. It is a film that assumes that the most routine form of this violence is not sensational, but subtle. He doesn’t “look” like the type to traffic women, he’s the dreamy guy with the pick-up, the biceps, the masculine calm that gives authority without aggression. This is the danger.

But only a part. Palm trees is the kind of movie in which young women like Lea and her best friend, Katie, are prone to being cool enough, disaffected enough, for boys who don’t really care about them — who would run away at the first sight of them. a complication — wanting to keep them. And in which sex has that familiar, vague meaning of the motto: having it is better than not, more adult than not, though no one can say why, exactly. The film is not a sociological study, but Dack has an analytical sense of why these young people are falling apart in this way. That’s what we spend a lot of the movie watching them do, at the start. Lea and Katie are sunbathing, wondering if they are being watched. Lea watches makeup tutorials on her phone, which makes her mother (played by Gretchen Mol) pathetic for being so needy and loving while her, Lea, who is equally needy, is proud to look less desperate. The two, Lea and Katie, intervene when the boys are talking about the size of another girl’s breasts. It’s all familiar material; it’s ‘being one of the boys’, it’s seeing your parents and realizing – with despair – that they may be your future.

It changes when Tom arrives. It’s toilet, the film illuminates it, not seduction: Dack takes care not to give pleasure to the public, makes sure that we understand that Tom is playing a long game without the film ever resorting seems to have one. Palm trees works because its lead actors, McInerny and Tucker, understand that only one of these characters knows what’s going on. And so we get a Lea who knows it’s wrong – she hides it; she only tells Katie enough details to seem cool about dating someone unknown to her peers – but openly crushes, allows herself to feel what Tom is trying hard to make her feel about herself , him, his life, his friends. We can see Tucker’s sweetness and know how to be wary of it. And we can see why Lea is wound up anyway.

Palm trees is more than a little reminiscent of other recent and effective forays into the danger and disillusionment of women’s late adolescence. by Andrea Arnold Aquarium comes to mind because of her central mother and daughter, who, like Lea and her mother, are at odds, with the girls wanting more and better for themselves than their mothers seem to have gotten. Eliza Hittman’s films also come to mind for their portrayals of a world that, in the quietest way, punishes young women for having sex. Dack is not a subtly elegant realist like Arnold and her approach has less of Hittman’s sultry curiosity. But the world of Palm trees is carefully carved. There’s an even, bleached freshness to it all, the kind that suits teenage boredom, each day blending into the next. There’s a warmth missing from the images that only further convinces us of Lea’s thirst to feel it. And there’s an emphasis on Lea taking in the world, evaluating it, evaluating herself. Anything that makes Tom feel suspicious to us, the in-the-know audience, only makes him exciting to her. The film is methodical: it shows us a predator at work, gradual steps, slow thumbs as he lures Léa into his confidence. But even the word “decoy” seems too strong for Dack’s approach here. The point isn’t to offer a good lesson in how a groomer works, but to bond us so completely with the film’s heroine that we fully understand her vulnerabilities. We see her, and we see what Tom sees and plans to exploit in her.


Lily McInerney as Lea in “Palms and Power Lines”.

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Dack wisely avoids the latent sensationalism of this story, courting neither heightened moral gloom nor that variety of punitive explicit sex that goes out of its way to defeat women like Lea in order to make dubious remarks about their vulnerability to defeat. Lea’s scenes alone with men are some of the most stylistically restrained in the entire film, in fact, especially when it comes to sex. There are no fireworks, none of the maniacal terror of outright violence. It’s so much more mundane and depressing than all that. Stuck in the backseat of some guy’s car, swept away in a shabby motel room, there’s nothing here but dissatisfaction for Lea, but the kind of dissatisfaction you haven’t yet in name at 17, the gender that – as the girl’s mother is positioned to remind us – only becomes visible to us after it has already reshaped our whole approach to life. This sex is not about pleasure, and it is certainly not about love. It’s the kind of sex where we focus on a character’s face, watch her go into a satisfaction she doesn’t really feel, see her face swing between questions and feelings. It’s a face that asks if it’s all worth it. And McInerny does the idea a favor by flooding the screen with conflicting emotions.

Long before Palm trees becomes a pure and simple film about sex work, it establishes itself as a film about the terrible social transaction that sex can be – an old story, tragic each time, and effective here. At one point, during an argument between Lea and Katie, one woman accuses the other of hanging out with boys who all know they have a chance to fuck her. Therefore, the point is implied, they keep it. Palm trees does not equate these boys, who are Lea’s age, with the older men in this story. He’s also not keen on landing on obvious ideas about wickedness and blame. It lands somewhere else — with the question, the problem of being lost. This, the film shows us, is what grooming does. It is not a question of knowing who these men are. It’s about who they convince us that we need them.

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