Palm Beach (2019)

Gratitude is something many take for granted.

In Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach (2019), it is the theme which runs through the film.

DIRECTOR RACHEL WARD

Whether contented with their lot in life or not, the three male leads have no idea how lucky they are.

They are seniors in relatively good health –one has recently diagnosed depression, another’s had a melanoma, the third smokes an electronic cigarette. But they each have a loving partner and don’t recognise how much they take it for granted until near film’s end.

It takes a birthday party reunion at the stunning river view home of Frank (Bryan Brown) and Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) for Frank, Leo (Sam Neill) and Billy (Richard E. Grant) to acknowledge their gratitude. Not before some linen gets aired.

Ward and co-writer Joanna Murray-Smith have crafted a predictable story around the three couples, offspring of the pairings – and this becomes very important – and a younger couple, of which the female half, Holly (Claire van der Bloom), is connected via her late mother. The Big Chill with families.

Frank formerly managed a one-hit wonder rock band which featured Leo, Billy and Holly’s mother. Since they disbanded, Frank formed a t-shirt company called Swagger and made a fortune when he sold it; Leo is a journalist in New Zealand and Billy writes jingles in Europe.

Charlotte, a psychiatrist, is recovering from breast cancer; Eva (Heather Mitchell) is an ageing actress being offered a movie part as a grandmother; and Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie) fears Leo only loves her because he thinks he saved her from a tougher life as a single mother.

Frank/Charlotte have two children, successful doctor Ella (Matilda Brown) and university dropout Dan (Charlie Vickers); Bridget is the mother of Caitlin (Frances Berry), who calls Leo dad; and Billy/Eva are childless by design.

The linen that most needs airing comes from Leo who wants to break a pact he, Frank and Charlotte made many years before. He believes he is Dan’s father.

Enough plot – and there’s a lot more happening – let’s discuss the reaction to this film. First, I loved it.

My expectation was low and Palm Beach surprised me. The soundtrack was superb, the scenery stunning (I had no qualms spending time in Frank and Charlotte’s house with the exquisite views and the non-stop high-end food and drink), the acting middling-to-good (I loved Scacchi but more anon); and Frank’s realisation of how much he loves Dan, despite being on his case for most of the film.

My fellow companions were less enamoured.

Cliché ridden, poorly acted, predictable, corny scenes, gratuitous shot of a fat wallaby were all given a strong run and, while the arguments were well made, I couldn’t understand the rancour. Some even bagged Scacchi’s turn. Their average vote was nearly 3.

Don’t these people appreciate Australian films?

Scacchi was superb. Playing the loving mother, she looked so vulnerable when her world began to unravel.  She led the female team of putting on a brave face while their male counterparts behaved badly.

Still, in fairness, the film wasn’t prepared to take on any greater themes than the character’s pasts and their current behaviour. No sign of multi-cultural Australia; indigenous people; same-sex marriage; refugees; left/right divide. It was a story about people without the intrusions of everyday life. Learning from the film, I was grateful for that.

Perhaps I was reacting too much to how low I thought this film would sink that made it ride so high in the water. Certainly, the emotion of one scene caused me to break down in tears.

Is my score over the top? Any film with Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” in its soundtrack scores 4 just for that.

FOOTNOTE:  I noticed lots of female names in the crew credits: Ward as director, she and Murray-Smith as co-writers led the way. IMDb’s cast and crew listed a crew of 62 and 30 were women. At least in one industry, parity of female to male representation appears possible? My old nemesis Looking For Grace (2015) had 27 of 56 so go figure.

Score: 4.5

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