×

Sydney Film Review: ‘Palm Beach’

A veteran cast goes to town in this seaside Australian dramatic comedy, a laid-back second feature from actress-turned-director Rachel Ward.

Director:
Rachel Ward
With:
Bryan Brown, Richard E. Grant, Aaron Jeffery, Jacqueline McKenzie, Heather Mitchell, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Claire van der Boom, Charlie Vickers, Matilda Brown.

Running time: 97 MIN.

In “Palm Beach,” a Murderer’s Row of vintage yet durably sparkling Australian acting talent, combined with recent Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant, makes for a bright and eventful weekend in the sun at the eponymous northern Sydney enclave. The second feature-length directorial credit from actress-turned-director Rachel Ward following the resonant and well-received 2009 drama “Beautiful Kate,” this breezy yet sturdy dramatic comedy is aimed squarely at a mature demographic that will join the party both Down Under — where the film kicked off the Sydney Film Festival ahead of its Aug. 8 domestic rollout — and abroad, where older audiences are also sure to stargaze.

On the occasion of his 73rd birthday, long-marrieds Frank (Bryan Brown) and Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) are entertaining family and friends at their spectacularly airy, low-slung home perched above the stunning natural beauty of the ritzy Sydney peninsula Palm Beach. Joining them are longtime couples Leo (Sam Neill) and Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie), as well as Billy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” scene-stealer Grant) and Eva (Heather Mitchell). The men of the group are old friends, representing three-quarters of the Pacific Sideburns, a fictional band that peaked in 1977 with the modest hit “Fearless” (a song written for the film by James Reyne, former frontman for Australian Crawl, which was popular locally from the early 1980s and whose biggest hit was a not-dissimilar song called “Reckless”).

A bash like this wouldn’t be complete without grown kids, and as with any such soirée, there’s a clutch here, the most prominent and pivotal of which are Frank and Charlotte’s two, aimless son Dan (Charlie Vickers) and new doc Ella (Matilda Brown, real-life daughter of Ward and Brown, who met on the set of the 1983 miniseries “The Thorn Birds” and married shortly thereafter).

Popular on Variety

Once litres of champagne and a groaning platter of fat prawns are produced, the revelry gets underway, resulting in a comfortable, no-holds-barred vibe. Thanks to a relaxed yet nuanced script from playwright Joanna Murray-Smith and Ward that manages to provide showcase character moments for all, this isn’t the kind of movie in which the talent is encouraged to act like they’ve had too much to drink, but rather, the sort where alcohol is a narrative pretext, first for the sheer pleasure of the Australian way of life among the privileged, then for the gradual crumbling of whatever inhibitions remain after three decades of friendship and marriage. The cast is clearly what sells the experience, but it all goes down easy through the combined efforts of Ward’s perceptive direction, the nuanced editing of vet Nick Meyers, and Bonnie Elliott’s warm, crystalline camerawork. Melinda Doring’s meticulous, crowded-but-not-cluttered production design settles everyone right in.

As it transpires, Frank is at often comical loose ends after selling his successful Swagger Gear sportswear company, journalist Leo endured a health scare, ad man Billy upsets his former bandmates by clandestinely using “Fearless” in a French TV spot for Pottie Pride adult undergarments, actress Eva struggles over whether to accept the offer of a part playing a grandmother, and so on. Yet the issue that gets the dramatic ball rolling is a serious matter of ancestry, and the eventual answer following a boating mishap will pull these friendships in directions they’ve never dared go.

If the film often plays like a gaggle of old friends hanging out to a soundtrack of oldies (and the good-time score of Melbourne-based band the Teskey Brothers, currently touring the States), that’s because the leads and creatives have known each other for decades: Brown and Neill are friends off-camera and have made at least five films together (the most recent being director Warwick Thornton’s 2017 dramatic Meat pie Western “Sweet Country”), while Ward and Grant played husband and wife 30 years ago in writer-director Bruce Robinson’s “How to Get Ahead in Advertising,” his follow-up to Grant’s now cult debut, “Withnail and I.” This isn’t so much a movie as a Venn diagram of working talent, cashing in their chips to have a good time together creating accessible entertainment. It’s such a laid-back production the main cast list appears in alphabetical order.

As it happens, the whole thing was Brown’s idea, influenced by dear friends in crisis on a holiday but shot through with the practicalities of life: “Paradise doesn’t exist, life exists,” claims the roughhewn yet whip-smart actor in the otherwise upbeat press kit, “Doesn’t matter where you are.” This approach keeps “Palm Beach” plausibly grounded, barely. Yet to be fair, if you have to be somewhere and that somewhere can be the lap of luxury, you could do a lot worse than a place, and a state of mind, like “Palm Beach.”

Sydney Film Review: 'Palm Beach'

Reviewed at NBCUniversal screening room, Sydney, Australia, May 24, 2019. Running time: 97 MINS.

Production: (Australia) A Universal Pictures release (in Australia) of a Screen Australia, Create NSW, Spectrum Films, Entertainment One, Seville Int'l presentation of a New Town Films, Soapbox Industries production. (Int’l sales: Seville Int'l, Montreal/Toronto.) Producers: Bryan Brown, Deb Balderstone. Executive producers: Josh Pomeranz, Troy Lum.

Crew: Director: Rachel Ward. Screenplay: Joanna Murray-Smith, Ward. Camera (color): Bonnie Elliott. Editor: Nick Meyer. Music: The Teskey Brothers.

With: Bryan Brown, Richard E. Grant, Aaron Jeffery, Jacqueline McKenzie, Heather Mitchell, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Claire van der Boom, Charlie Vickers, Matilda Brown.

More Film

  • Harvey Weinstein female juror

    Novelist Who Wrote About Predatory Men Stays on Harvey Weinstein Jury

    A novelist who has an upcoming book about predatory older men in New York will remain on the Harvey Weinstein jury, despite vociferous objections from the defense. Juror #11 showed up to opening statements on Wednesday, and sat through the full day of trial. Weinstein’s defense had argued last Friday that she should be removed [...]

  • Ride Like A Girl

    Australia Box Office Drops 2% in 2019

    Cinema box office in Australia dipped by 2% in 2019 to an annual total of A$1.23 billion, or $841 million, according to data from the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. That was the country’s third highest figure in local currency terms, but it also shows the theatrical industry to be rangebound since 2015. Australian-made [...]

  • Harvey WeinsteinHarvey Weinstein court hearing, New

    Hairdresser Will Be Star Witness at Weinstein Trial

    She was raised on a dairy farm in Washington state. She left home as a teenager, fleeing a troubled childhood. At 25, she came to Los Angeles to become an actress. She went on auditions, got cast in a few commercials — but nothing much beyond that. In recent years, her primary job was cutting [...]

  • Jack Kehoe dead

    Jack Kehoe, 'Serpico' and 'Midnight Run' Actor, Dies at 85

    Jack Kehoe, best known for his roles in the Al Pacino-led crime drama “Serpico” and “Midnight Run,” died on Jan. 10 at a nursing home in Los Angeles. He was 85. The actor suffered a debilitating stroke in 2015, which left him inactive in recent years. Kehoe also appeared in several Academy Award-winning films during [...]

  • The Last Full Measure

    'The Last Full Measure': Film Review

    The story of William Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force Pararescue medic who risked his life in Vietnam to aid his comrades, as well as the decades-later efforts of fellow vets to see him posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, is undeniably moving — which goes a long way toward explaining how Todd Robinson enlisted an [...]

  • The Grand Grandmaster

    Hong Kong and China Box Office to Take Separate Directions at Chinese New Year

    In the more than six months that protest movements have rocked Hong Kong, a whole range of business sectors have become color-coded, as both Beijing-loyal blue elements and yellow pro-democracy forces have weaponized the economy. Companies on the front line include leading bank HSBC, airline Cathay Pacific and even the subway operator MTRC. Effects range [...]

  • Parasite

    'Parasite' Puts Modern Spin on Film's Long History of Haves vs Have-Nots

    Every filmmaker hopes to make a good movie, but sometimes the impact is bigger than expected. Neon’s “Parasite” is one example of a 2019 film hitting a nerve. Writer-director Bong Joon Ho’s film has been praised for its originality and daring shifts in tone. It also has resonance due to its subject matter: the gap [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content