Film Review: Palm Beach

Despite its postcard-worthy setting and solid cast, this slice of baby boomer-baiting reflection from Rachel Ward has a melancholic edge.

In the beginning, dramatic comedy Palm Beach plays like an ad for pasta sauce. Happy, successful and united friends and rellies radiate joy. They feast outdoors on fleshy prawns and quaff wine from sparkly glasses that mirror the sparkly blue waters of Sydney’s Palm Beach (Palmy) below. Palmy with pasta sauce. The group has gathered to stay at the home of mega-rich Frank and wife Charlotte and celebrate Frank’s birthday.

But what happens if we enter this pasta sauce commercial and get to observe the actual lives and personal dynamics of the people at the table? We’d discover that each of these people grapples with problems. Although Oyster Bay wine and million-dollar views may initially make it easier to be affable to the hosts and other guests, this isn’t sustainable. The complicated and often terrible ways people treat each other slowly reveal themselves. In short, people are flawed and make mistakes, or as Nick Cave put it, “People just ain’t no good”.

Even the desirable and seemingly idyllic Sydney water views displayed aren’t perfect. This film reminds us that the Australian landscape can be cruel when not respected. With its glittering scenery and ensemble cast of English and Trans-Tasman actors, Palm Beach is engaging and a pleasure to watch. How can a vehicle with Bryan Brown, Sam Neill and Greta Scacchi not be? The film’s soundtrack, often ironic, is also appealing, and its emphasis on soul (Roberta Flack, Otis Redding) conveys all the deep feelings that are in play.

Palm Beach’s accomplished direction by Rachel Ward and clever writing by Ward and Joanna Murray-Smith leave the viewer pondering the nature of perfection. To conclude that Frank’s outburst — over a chimney that spoils his near-perfect view of the harbour — is a rich man’s problem is missing the point. It’s referred pain. Imperfection in life and in people must be accepted, along with forgiveness of ourselves and others — it’s the mortar that binds people into a rustic yet functional pizza oven.

Palm Beach (M) opens in Adelaide cinemas on August 8

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