Film Review: Palm Beach
Director: Rachel Ward
Cast: Bryan Brown, Richard E. Grant, Aaron Jeffery, Jacqueline McKenzie, Heather Mitchell, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Claire van der Boom, Charlie Vickers, Matilda Brown, Frances Berry
Running Time: 98
Australian Distributor: Universal Pictures Australia
Rachel Ward’s gentle film about three late-middle age couples coming together for a weekend of wine, catch-ups and nostalgia is the perfect promotion for the Northern Beaches of Sydney, with its lingering shots of crystal clear water and luxuriously appointed homes.
The beachside villa in question belongs to Frank (Bryan Brown), a wealthy former music manager who has invited two former members of his most successful band (Sam Neill and Richard E Grant) and their spouses (Heather Mitchell and Jacqueline McKenzie) to his home to celebrate his birthday. Frank and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) are dealing with a crisis that neither will admit, as they struggle to ignite any sparks in their later years. The other two couples have their own mid-life, mid-relationship woes.
Seesawing between laughs and dramas across multiple subplots, Palm Beach boasts a few narrative surprises, but is essentially a standard blend of middle-aged woes, broad life-affirming insights and inevitable cathartic revelations. Inspired by Brown and Ward’s own vacation with three other couples, the film both echoes with truth and seems filtered through an easy formula.
Ward’s return to the movies is a curious beast. Palm Beach is lightweight fare that is so far off on another planet of relevancy to most Australians’ lives that it is hard to not come off as little more than an indulgent tax deduction. A nostalgia trip for some of this country’s finest actors (and Richard E Grant) where one of the big narrative hooks involves the building of an outdoor pizza oven.
Yes, it’s a film that celebrates privilege, and yes, it’s an exceptionally white film, but Palm Beach is a film that delivers for the market that is craving this kind of material.
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