It’s a well-known formula – bring a group of actors of a certain age together, put them in someone’s holiday home location, play some good music, uncover some long-kept secrets and bring in the family.
It’s a recipe for success, it worked in the U.S. with The Big Chill, in the U.K. with Peter’s Friends, and as they got older, in India with Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Now, we have a very Australian treatment with Palm Beach.
Palm Beach was a great film to launch the 2019 Sydney Film Festival, and although it will receive a wider opening in July, the opening night and other sessions sold out.
The film is directed by Rachel Ward and features a very Australian cast (or those we claim as Australian) – Greta Scaachi, Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Jacqueline McKenzie, and Heather Mitchell, with the only real ring-in being Englishman Richard E Grant. Palm Beach centres around a birthday party for Frank (Bryan Brown) who has invited his former bandmates to celebrate with him. He has flown them out to stay at his Palm Beach property which reeks of great success. Beautifully shot on location, the film is light and bright and spectacularly Sydney. The overseas guests are flown up the peninsula on a seaplane, and thus we enjoy the stunning beach shots with stars we feel we’ve known forever.
As the guests arrive and are whisked away to the sumptuous property, we assume they are all successful, but it transpires that they have not all been as fortunate as their magnanimous host, who has set aside a small building project which he wants them to help with as a way of re-bonding.
Frank is rather bored after selling his successful sportswear brand. We find that while he managed the band, he was not in the band, he didn’t have that talent. But, after they broke up after reaching their peak with a song called “Fearless” in the late 1970s, Frank went on to great success and fortune through designing t-shirts, and now is the most successful of the group. Billy (Grant) is the most jealous of Frank’s success and wants to keep distinguishing the artists from ‘others’. He is unwilling to accept his life and choices and successes with the band, with his wife, and with his family. He has recently licensed the band’s biggest hit to an adult diaper ad campaign.
Director, Ward, says she and husband Bryan Brown were inspired to make the film by a family holiday they took with friends to Wales a few years ago. The people they were with were all celebrating their final quarter of life and were generally dissatisfied at the way things had turned out. People relived past choices, compared themselves to their friends, mourned their losses through age.
Set in a brighter environment, and one of great privilege, served over chilled champagne, Cloudy Bay wine, grilled prawns, and platters of seafood, the film focuses on the marriages of all the couples, the changes in relationships from their past, the indiscretions, realities of reaching their 70s. There is minimal tension or actual plot, but, it’s a pleasant sojourn with old friends with a great backdrop.
Ward is clearly familiar with the Palm Beach lifestyle and has captured it perfectly. It is a similar theme that the English or Americans or anyone else could do, but her interpretation is quintessentially Australian. It’s easy to imagine that many of the cast have actually had holidays together just like this – they’ve certainly all worked with each other on various other projects over the decades.
The next generation is part of the older group’s concerns – will they choose the right partners, the right careers? The younger set is played with sensitivity by Matilda Brown, Claire van der Boom, and Charlie Vickers. There’s something reminiscent of the time-capsuling done so well by David Williamson in this film.
It’s a particular set of people at a particular time in Australia and will be a very pleasant memory to revisit in years to come.