Palm Beach (2019)
Nobody expects originality in the ‘re-uniting buddies’ film genre. Ask any baby-boomer to name their favourite and it is likely that The Big Chill (1983) will pop up as a benchmark film. The structure is always the same: long-time friends reconnect around a milestone event which slowly descends into sub-plots of secrets and discontent, flavoured by a soundtrack evocative of youth and unfulfilled promise. Palm Beach (2019) follows this format exactly. However, instead of reflecting on the youthful idealism of the 1960s, it is set in a modern context of insatiable white middle-class privilege for an ageing group of malcontents, especially of the male variety.
The single impressive feature of the film is the spectacular panoramic Palm Beach setting on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, filmed beautifully with lingering shots of every lovely lighting angle the wealthy can afford. The views are complemented by a stellar local ensemble that includes Bryan Brown, Richard E. Grant, Sam Neill and Greta Scacchi, all of whom play such evenly predictable parts that there may be arguments over whether anybody actually stars in this production. The sourness of this ageing cohort (nobody is seen happy) is given light relief with a few young offspring and a couple of sight gags.
The film’s entertainment value rests on comic tropes, blended into a potpourri of indignities familiar to the seniors’ demographic. These include nostalgia over failed careers and unresolved affairs, depression, drug abuse, sexual impotence, disappearing libido, disputed parentage, wealth envy, sagging bottoms, and even a breast prosthetic thrown to the floor with a rubbery flump. The flat tension curve is given an upward blip with a psychotic episode where the host becomes so incensed that his panoramic views are blighted by a neighbour’s chimney that he attacks it with a sledgehammer. The only other moment where viewers’ pulse rate might rise is a boating accident that rudely interrupts the enjoyment of views and fine wine. Given the spoilt misery amongst the group, it is laughable when one of the wives suddenly tries to leave her hapless husband but relents feebly with “just promise me that the next ten years will be the best time of our lives”.
Palm Beach is pretty to look at, light-hearted and mildly entertaining. It is also slow moving, over-acted, and lightweight. It will probably have a short shelf life and struggle to find audiences beyond the well-off suburbs around Sydney. It could have been so much better.
Director: Rachel Ward
Stars: Bryan Brown, Richard E. Grant, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi