A family struggles to survive a disintegrating marriage after moving to Palos Verdes from the Midwest in the new film “The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” opening in limited release Friday, Dec. 8, in Los Angeles and on VOD Friday, Dec. 1.
The film's back story resembles the saga of the so-called Lunada Bay Boys, a notorious group of surfers accused of using violence and other means to keep outsiders from their surf spots in Palos Verdes.
In the film, 16-year-old Medina (played by Maika Monroe) heads to the waves to cope while her parents (Jennifer Garner, Justin Kirk) face marital strife. Her twin brother Jim (Cody Fern) turns to drugs as he becomes involved with the local surfing clique.
Fern, in his first American feature film, said Jim is a sensitive, life-of-the-party teen, who becomes a tragic character when his family falls apart.
“Today's audiences are more receptive to complicated characters,” said the Australian actor. “People don't want simple good guy, bad guy, black, white ... we understand areas of gray particularly with (the dad's) character. There's a lot of gray. People say he's the villain of the piece, but in a big way he's a man trying to move on with his life, who also happens to have children.”
After his medical practice begins to thrive, Phil Mason (Kirk) copes well with the family's move from Michigan. His wife Sandy (Garner), however, has a tough time fitting into the affluent beach community, putting a strain on the marriage.
“Everyone thinks they are doing their best,” said Kirk, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role in “Weeds.” “I know from my character's perspective, he's had a hell of a time with his wife.”
“The Tribes of Palos Verdes” is based on the best-selling novel by Joy Nicholson, who based the story on her own life and move to the town. Excerpts of the novel were published in Surfers Journal when the novel was released in 1998. Karen Croner's adapted screenplay was given to producer Robbie Brenner (“Dallas Buyers Club”) in 2008, who was able to get the film made as “Dallas Buyers Club” hit the awards circuit in 2014.
Fern said his agent initially called him to audition for a small role in the film as one of the Bay Boys. But when he went in, he read for Jim and landed the role.
From the beginning, Fern said they did not feel welcome in Palos Verdes, where it was shot as well as in San Pedro.
“It was very frightening for us to be there at times, there were slashed tires, there was localism,” Fern said.
Kirk added, “They were there. They were aware of our movie ... they would drive by in their cars slowly with their tops down.”
Fern said that in the film Palos Verdes itself has been made into a villain, but he can understand how a community can be distrustful of outsiders.
“This family is a transplant that comes into an area that does not want them there, that is essentially against ex-pats,” Fern said. “I come from a very small country town and I understand what that process is like when outsiders come in. It can be very frightening for people who live somewhere to have other people come into their home and take over their beaches.”
“The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” which is directed by Emmett Malloy and Brendan Malloy, and also stars Alicia Silverstone, Elisabeth Rohm and Goran Visnjic, opens at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angels on Friday, Dec. 8.