PALM BEACH. Starring: Bryan Brown, Sam Neil, Richard E. Grant, Greta Scacchi, Jacqueline McKenzie, Heather Mitchell, and Matilda Brown. Directed by Rachel Ward. Rated M (Coarse language). 97 min.
This Australian film tells the story of a group of friends who come together to party in Sydney. In the movie, three ageing couples concerned at being 50+, explore their past lives nostalgically over wine and good food. A very different Australian film with the same title was released in 1979. The group comes together to have a good time at Sydney’s Northern Peninsula beaches, and they party in a Frank’s (Bryan Brown) luxury hill-top mansion overlooking the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean at Palm Beach.
Frank is celebrating his 73rd. birthday with family and close friends. Thirty years before, Frank managed a pop group with Leo (Sam Neil) and Billy (Richard E Grant), called the “The Pacific Sideburns”, and he later used his entrepreneurial skills to become a highly successful business-man. Frank flies in his friends for three days of luxury at Palm Beach among scenic surrounds in which his wealth and affluence are abundantly obvious. The film is a mixture of serious and comic moments, the latter seen in the comic lightness provided by the actress-conflicts of Eva (Heather Mitchell) being asked to play the part of a woman much older than she is. Characters in the movie have had, or are having, struggles in life and secrets from their past come to the fore as the birthday celebrations continue. Everything looks friendly at first (with a few subtle exceptions), the couples party hard, and confronting memories of past deeds start to create considerable tension among them. Vulnerabilities are exposed, and everybody is trying to cope with them.
We learn that Charlotte (Greta Scacchi), Frank’s wife, has breast cancer and had an affair 20 years previously that has serious consequences; Leo’s wife, Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie) thinks her husband doesn’t love her any more; and competitiveness and infidelity lurk in the background affecting most of those who are partying. The three couples reminisce in wealthy surrounds, but as the tensions surface, drama overtakes comedy in how the main characters interact. It all works out with some sentimental overflow, and a few emotion-wrenching concluding moments.
In the film, mid-life crises absorb the tensions. As the movie develops its dramatic pace, and acquires more complexity, the group’s partying spirit begins to dissipate, especially when Billy starts to alienate all those he interacts with. When the movie develops its focus on the couples’ personal struggles, we are led to the conclusion that everyone will survive, despite what has happened. All the characters are aware that they have supported each other in the past, and viewers are led to realise that this will continue, and that friendships will endure.
This is a movie that illustrates the survival of friendship, and aims to celebrate its worth. For each of the characters, friendship matters. The film is essentially about Aussie-life among the privileged, which looks as if friendships and relationships might shatter, but they don’t.
The leads in this film have actually known each other for decades. Brown and Neill have made five films together, and Brown is married to the movie’s Director, Rachel Ward, and Ward and Grant have played wife and husband in a movie, thirty years ago. On screen, Brown and Neill face each other off about a serious incident in their past where paternity of an off-spring is being questioned, but, away from the screen, they have been close friends for nearly 40 years. There is also a child of actor and director - Matilda Brown - who has a key part in the movie. The acting in the movie illustrates comfortably the ease and familiarity of the friendships that exist off-screen. The level of natural acting achieved in this film is excellent, and the movie is accompanied by an impressive musical soundtrack.
The movie has a talented cast, and targets an audience mindful of approaching age. In not too demanding a fashion, its messages affirm the value of maintaining friendships in later life, and the movie explores this theme entertainingly among attractive Australian surrounds.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Universal Pictures International
Released August 8th., 2019