Bryan Brown, Richard E Grant, Greta Scacchi and Heather Mitchell star in the movie Palm Beach.
Bryan Brown, Richard E Grant, Greta Scacchi and Heather Mitchell star in the movie Palm Beach. Elise Lockwood

MOVIE REVIEW: Location overpowers drama on insular peninsula

PALM BEACH

Two and a half stars

Director: Rachel Ward

Starring: Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Richard E. Grant

Rating: M

Running time: 97 minutes

Verdict: Location, location, location!

 

The trouble with a picture postcard backdrop such as Sydney's northern beaches, is that it can be rather distracting - especially in moments of high drama.

Cinematographer Bonnie Elliot shoots the hell out of the iconic location in this subtropical Big Chill, about a bunch of Baby Boomers who are reunited for a significant birthday.

Water sparkles, waves lap at the shore, wisps of white cloud flit across an impossibly clear blue sky …

Of course, even the rich have problems.

Having sold his extraordinarily successful T-shirt business for an eye-watering amount of money, 70-year-old Frank (Bryan Brown) has lost his purpose - and found antidepressants.

His wife, Charlotte (Greta Scacchi), is still recovering, emotionally, from a mastectomy.

Bryan Brown produces and stars in Palm Beach.
Bryan Brown produces and stars in Palm Beach. Elise Lockwood

Oldest child Ella (Bryan's real-life daughter Matilda), is a high achiever who has just finished medical school, but her brother Dan (Charlie Vickers) is struggling to find his own path in life and father and son clash regularly.

While the issues the family is grappling with are hardly insignificant, they are regularly upstaged by Palm Beach's geographical attractions - in one scene, guests arrive by sea plane, in another, the entire dinner party travels to a restaurant in their host's yacht.

In short, Frank is suffering from a severe case of affluenza.

His biggest worry, now that Charlotte has been given the all-clear, is a chimney that interrupts his 180-degree view of the coast - Richard E. Grant's bitter rock star-turned-jingle writer, Billy, never misses an opportunity to needle him about it.

There is much to enjoy about actor-turned-director Rachel Ward's second feature - not least the relaxed, on screen relationship between the various actors, some of whom, such as Brown and Sam Neill, have known each other for the best part of 40 years.

Richard E Grant, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown in a scene from Palm Beach.
Richard E Grant, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown in a scene from Palm Beach. Elise Lockwood

Scacchi earths the film as the warm, practical matriarch who can whip up a banquet at a moment's notice.

Heather Mitchell makes 60 look sexy. An internationally renowned actress, her character is struggling to come to terms with playing a grandmother (she's just been offered a role as Nicole Kidman's mother).

Jacqueline McKenzie's role, as Sam Neill's much younger, second partner, feels a little underwritten, but she's a useful bridge between the two generations.

Claire van der Boom's character, Holly, is the most relatable character in the film - perhaps because she's a little more raw and real.

An honorary family member, her late mother was the lead singer in the band the men formed in the 1980s, which had one major hit.

Aaron Jeffery, Richard E Grant, Claire van der Boom, Heather Mitchell, Sam Neill and Charlie Vickers in a scene from Palm Beach.
Aaron Jeffery, Richard E Grant, Claire van der Boom, Heather Mitchell, Sam Neill and Charlie Vickers in a scene from Palm Beach. Elise Lockwood

Broad in its humour, conscientiously commercial in its appeal, and with one eye firmly on the international market, Palm Beach is very different proposition to Ward's directorial debut, the tough and uncompromising Outback drama Beautiful Kate.

While there's nothing wrong with wanting to reach a broader audience, you need to have something relevant to say to them.

Written by Ward and respected Australian playwright/screenwriter/novelist Joanna Murray-Smith, Palm Beach focuses on a privileged bunch of white people.

As a group, they are not particularly relatable. This peninsula feels exceptionally insular.

 

Opens Thursday


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