Palm Beach – A Showcase Of Australian Talent And Scenery 

August 6, 2019

There’s a lot to like about the new film Palm Beach, directed by Rachel Ward and starring a litany of Australian actors including Bryan Brown, Sam Neill (yes we know he’s from New Zealand), Greta Scacchi, Heather Mitchell and Jacqueline McKenzie plus Richard E. Grant (yes, he’s British). 

All of these actors deliver their best along with original music from the Tesky Brothers which gives the film the ‘Big Chill’ vibe many are saying it exudes. Direction from Ward is light-handed and comedic in a natural, nuanced way which makes the film easy to watch and enjoy. 

And of course the backdrop of the film stands on its own. We watch the actors talking with the drop-dead gorgeous vistas of Palm Beach and Pittwater behind them. It makes a clear statement that if you want a spectacular place to live, just drive up to northern Sydney. As Bryan Brown said at the premiere of the film last week, “… there’s a reason why it’s set in Palm Beach – it’s paradise but there are things going on in the story which aren’t necessarily paradise for all the people.” 

He added: “I don’t think we’ve seen some of the wonderful locations that Sydney has. Palm Beach is a jewel and it’s great to tell this storyline.” 

Heather Mitchell & Richard E. Grant

But ultimately, when all of these great features have been absorbed, it’s likely you will ask yourself what is the film actually saying? Is there enough in the plot to keep us interested and inspire us to relate to these people? Sadly, there may not be enough for some viewers and that’s a pity when this film has so much else going for it.

Without giving too much away, Frank (played by Brown) is retiring and it’s his birthday. Frank was the manager of a band of soft-rockers called The Pacific Sideburns and back in the day they had one hit. But that was it. Frank went on to make his money other ways so for this birthday he brings everyone to his house in Palm Beach, flying them in if necessary. 

Frank’s wife, Charlotte is played by Scacchi who relishes the older role and plays it well. She’s been quoted as saying: “It’s a long time since I’ve had a decent role like this in film.” As Charlotte, she’s recently got over some health issues so she’s a bit delicate and she and Frank are having some issues. They have adult children who are played ably by Brown and Ward’s own daughter and son — Matilda and Dan Brown. 

Invited to the birthday party are members of the band, Leo (Neill) and his wife Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie) and stepdaughter Caitlin (Frances Berry). Billy comes along (he’s an ex-band member as well and played by Grant) with his actress wife, Eva (Heather Mitchell) and Holly (Claire van der Boom) the daughter of a friend who’s died, arrives with her new boyfriend, Doug (Aaron Jeffrey).

The script is written by playwright Joanna Murray-Smith and Ward. As the film unfolds, we learn the struggles facing each couple and slowly, these issues become intertwined with each other and the pace revs up. So in amongst all of this beautiful scenery and lives of affluence, we see each person is grappling with a situation which could possibly threaten all of this.

As we watch these dramas unfold, Ward’s direction adds a light, comic touch which is both gentle and surprising. The actors rise to the subtlety and we begin to relate to them on a deeper level.

But by the time the film ends, Palm Beach is still essentially a story about white, upper middle class people grappling with problems many of us would dream of having. It’s skewed to the Baby Boomer demographic who’ll be able to relate to it and will probably enjoy it immensely. But it’s surprising that an Australian film in 2019 seems to showcase a standard, white-Aussie culture with no trace of any other culture to be seen. This seems out of touch – especially when it wouldn’t have been hard to incorporate a multi-cultural angle. 

Palm Beach is in cinemas from 8th August and while it’s an enjoyable film to watch it’s not one that will stay with you for too long. While the actors look like they’re enjoying themselves and they deliver some perfectly timed comic and dramatic scenes, by the end of the film you may feel you’ve simply been to a lovely, but forgettable, dinner party. 

That’s not entirely correct though – the cinematography (by Bonnie Elliott) including those beautiful scenes of Palm Beach and Pittwater, will likely stay with you for a lot longer.  

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