“Palm Beach” (2019)
Written by: Joanna Murray-Smith and Rachel Ward
Directed by: Rachel Ward
Featuring: Frances Berry, Bryan Brown and Matilda Brown
Recently released on DVD is the Australian movie “Palm Beach” (2019) directed by Rachel Ward, her second go round after the excellent “Beautiful Kate” (2009), both featuring her husband Bryan Brown. The plot of the movie is much like any other movie of its ilk that has been produced for many decades, old friends reuniting after a prolonged period apart, much like “The Big Chill” (1983) or John Sayles breakthrough “The return of the Secaucus Seven” (1979). What separates those movies from this new one is that “Palm Beach” only offers a broad picture of what friendship means after a period of time whereas those other films were highpoint of the genre as well as being expertly written for film and they were much more original.
“Palm Beach” tells the story of friends and old secrets, we are reminded why such situations work so well in drama. They tend to involve tangled-web-we-weave backstories, ethical dilemmas, conflicting perceptions of right and wrong, and moments when complicated feelings are brought to a head. It takes place in a Sydney suburb where longtime friends gather for low-key celebrations. Some of the group are former members of a band called Pacific Sideburns. The extended social network includes Frank (Bryan Brown) and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi), Leo (Sam Neill) and Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie), and Billy (Richard E Grant) and Eva (Heather Mitchell). Early in the piece Leo mentions to Charlotte the existence of a pact formed long ago, signalling his intention to break whatever this agreement is. This lingers in the background of the story while the group partake in one boozy dinner party and social gathering after another, in and around Frank and Charlotte’s lavish and airy abode, where sunshine sparkles off panoramic bodies of water, evoking the feeling of an endless affluent summer.
Something that pervades “Palm Beach” is smugness, affluence and the idea that everyone in Sydney lives like these white middle aged people who look like they are owed something with them all being framed by their own fortunes. I guess Ward and her co-writer are displaying their own experiences, it’s not like the entire cast are not all successful, rich actors who haven’t even thought about money for decades. For a movie like this there is always going to be a challenge to give screen time to everyone as well as juggling multiple stories which this one has, however where it falls flat is there is little inherent conflict with the characters so it meanders for almost the entire running time something unforgivable in a movie of this ilk.
As “Palm Beach” is co-written by Joanna Murray-Smith who is predominantly known as a play write it is not surprising at all that the movie actually feels like a play in tone and style. While that might work for some films, those that have antagonists and protagonists, think “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992) or “A Few Good Men” (1993) great plays turned into magnificent films. However because of the storylines as well as the direction this movie comes off as not just a little staid and boring with a fairly boring palette that is over saturated which feeds into the smugness of the entire production.
There is only one real reason to watch “Palm Beach” and that is the actors who are all well known as well as great to watch, sure their storylines are bland but they are still fine performers.