Film review: ‘PALM BEACH’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Palm Beach, the new Aussie relationship drama from director Rachel Ward, builds its story around a very familiar template: A group of older middle-aged, upper middle-class friends come together for a weekend where amiable socialising gives way to people venting hidden resentments, revealing past infidelities and lamenting personal disappointments. At the screening, star Bryan brown said the story was inspired by a real-life weekend with friends where every member of the seemingly fortunate group was beset by serious personal dramas. As well as this, however, Palm Beach appears to have been heavily influenced by films like The Big Chill and a multitude of European dinner party dramas.

Brown plays Frank, a financially successful but personally disgruntled businessman and former manager of a flash-in-the-pan 70’s rock band. To celebrate Frank’s birthday, his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) invites a group of their friends for a weekend at their sumptuous beachside home in the titular Northern Sydney suburb of Palm Beach. The visitors include former band members Leo (Sam Neill) and Billy (Richard E. Grant) and their partners Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie) and Eva (Heather Mitchell) as well as Frank and Charlotte’s adult children Ella (Brown and Ward’s real-life daughter Matilda Brown), Holly (Claire van der Boom) and Dan (Charlie Vickers). As festivities become more boisterous, Charlotte and Leo agonise over the impact of a past affair, ageing actress Eva laments her rapidly disappearing viability as a star and Frank begins to resent just about everyone including his son.

This is a relatively mild affair, essentially a celebration of middle-class success occasionally interrupted by minor dramas although at one point there is a near-tragedy.   It often has the episodic style of play or TV soap although more ABC than commercial. The film occasionally veers into comic territory and while there are a few amusing moments it’s hardly a riotous romp.

True to the Big Chill template, the film thankfully includes a great classic rock soundtrack with The Easybeats’ Friday on my mind, Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild and Donovan’s Dylanesque nd Catch The Wind highlights.

Without exaggerating the film’s role as a political entity, it provides an oddly dated and unrepresentative snapshot of Australia. As its all-white, Baby Boomer characters luxuriate in the sunshine of Sydney’s stunning, ultra-upmarket Palm Beach area consuming a mouth-watering array of foods and sipping fine wines, there’s little acknowledgement of the tumultuous world outside this bubble. Still, it mostly works as the sort of film where audiences simply allow themselves to be immersed in this idealistic world and enjoy magnificent scenery and the prodigious talents of some of Australia (and New Zealand’s) finest actors. Brown’s flinty Frank is the standout although oddly, aspects of his life, such as his apparent depression, are mentioned then barely touched on again.

Palm Beach is an amiable and engaging film but a little too light.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Rachel Ward.

Release date: 8th Aug 2019.

Running time: 100 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

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