Film Review: Palm Beach


TITLEPalm Beach

DIRECTOR: Rachel Ward

SCREENWRITER: Joanna Murray-Smith, Rachel Ward

STARS: Bryan Brown, Richard E. Grant, Jacqueline McKenize, Heather Mitchell, Sam Neil, Greta Scacchi

RUNTIME: 160 minutes

CINEMATIC RELEASE DATES: Australia (8th August 2019)




In a world where we seem to have a different comic-book blockbuster hit the big screen every other week sometimes it is nice to go into a cinema and just settle down and watch some of the finest actors in the industry tell a nice timeless, character-driven story. Films like The Exotic Marigold Hotel have shown us over the past few years that when you get together a cast of talented actors, get them to play interesting characters while almost completely relying on the chemistry between them to get things rolling… magic happens. That is exactly what happens here with brand new Australia film Palm Beach.

From director Rachel Ward, who wowed me with the film Beautiful Kate, Palm Beach tells the story of a group of friends getting together in the affluent Sydney suburb of Palm Beach to celebrate the birthday of Frank (Bryan Brown – Cocktail, Breaker Morant). Welcomed into the home of Frank and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi – Looking For Alibrandi, Flightplan) the group is largely made up of life-long friends forged by the career fictional 1970s band Pacific Sideburns. While the group may seem tight of course there are under-lying tensions and secrets between Frank and the remaining members Leo (Sam Neil – Jurassic Park, Hunt For The Wilderpeople) and Billy (Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Gosford Park). Then of course there are further of life’s issues happening for their partners – Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie – Romper Stomper, Angel Baby) and Eva (Heather Mitchell – Rogue, The Great Gatsby).

A quick read through the cast list and any fan of Australian cinema would know that they were in for something special. The big issue here though is that Palm Beach feels like it never really captures its full potential. The problem is that the screenplay written by Ward and Joanna Murray-Smith (Georgia, The Divorce) just has way too many things going on. With the betrayal by a band member towards his partners in crime and the toxic relationship between Frank and his son Dan (Charlie Vickers – Medici) the film already has some decent storylines going on… aside from the film’s big mystery which I will not plot spoil here. But then the story piles on more stories involving Frank and Charlotte’s daughter Ella (Matilda Brown – The Death And Life Of Otto Bloom, The Caravan) and fresh couple Holly (Claire van der Boom – The Square, Red Hill) and Doug (Aaron Jeffrey – Underbelly, Wentworth).

It feels harsh saying that because van der Boom puts in one of the best performances in the film, but like so many of the stories here hers gets pushed back behind the major storylines and never receives the attention that it deserves. The problem is very simple – the script just has too much plot and character overload, a shame when you consider that the film actually works very well when the true tensions rise and some of the storylines are completely fleshed out.

The one thing that can’t be said about the film is that it doesn’t look good. With Ward’s keen eye focussing on the characters cinematographer Bonnie Elliott (Spear, Drowning) beautifully captures the stunning environment that is Palm Beach. Like so many of the films that French filmmakers have been making over the past few years that capture the beauty of the French countryside Palm Beach is designed to show off some of Australia’s natural beauty while delivering an intense driven plot. The heavenly views of Palm Beach also counteract the emotional hell that the character’s storylines put them through at times.

As mentioned earlier this has a film that does bring their A-Game to the table. Seasoned veterans like Bryan Brown and Sam Neil put in amazing performances that carry the film while Richard E.Grant manages to steal every scene that he is in. Perhaps the best performance here though comes from Heather Mitchell who brilliantly portrays an actress struggling to deal with the roles that she is being offered now she is older. It is one of the most intriguing storylines in the film and Mitchell uses all of her skill to bring it to the screen.

While Palm Beach does showcase the talent of some of Australia’s leading actors the fact that there are so many storylines and characters in this film means that the film never gets the chance to be as good as it could be. Well worth a look to celebrate Australian cinema but don’t expect it to be an A-Grade film.