Friendships that survive the test of time are always intriguing to see on the silver screen. Particular forms of drama can only be generated appropriately between characters who have known each other for a long time, and that is what is worth watching when done well. Even more so when said friends are reuniting in a picturesque Australian holiday destination. That is what Rebecca Ward’s “Palm Beach” pitches to us.
Set in Sydney’s beach of the same name Palm Beach sees old bandmates Billy (Richard E. Grant) and Leo (Sam Neill) flown over to visit their old band manager Frank (Bryan Brown) and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) for his birthday. Their wives Eva (Heather Mitchell) and Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie) round out the 6-person group with a lifetime’s worth of friendship.
Having lost their lead singer years earlier the band never managed to take off and was left with only one minor hit. Over the years, their failure to become famous artists and an ancient love triangle of sorts leads to drama fizzing below the surface of their affluent well to do lives.
Palm Beach on paper shouldn’t be as fun as it turns out to be. Relating to these characters in this setting is no easy task. None of them has a job that most individuals could relate to, and despite a slight undertone of financial woes for some characters, they all come across as people who never want for anything. Once they move on from the sunshine intro into the emotion that drives the film, it is hard to believe them.
There are small plot points meant to drive the fact that these characters have faced issues recently, for instance, two characters have faced cancer battles, but the film mentions this briefly and quickly moves on as if trying to cover its tracks and nothing more.
This highlights the biggest flaw in the entire endeavour, the script. Everything becomes a bit soapy as it goes along and draws many similarities to the Australian soap opera “Home and Away” which isn’t a compliment. As each resolution to the inter-character conflicts plays on screen, it feels like they are only resolving the issues because they had to, not because any of the characters found new insight. Also, there are a couple of scenes where the humour is entirely low brow and unfunny. This excellent cast could have benefited from something to dig their teeth into, but the script doesn’t provide that.
In saying that, the cast is everything in Palm Beach. They are the creators of everything good in this movie and were they even slightly less entertaining this would have been a catastrophic misfire. However, they have undying chemistry that ties them all together and makes them convincing old friends. Whenever the story begins to lose its way, any combination of these talented performers does something to spark it back to life. It is particularly entertaining watching Richard E. Grant as the snarky Billy in this film.
He’s had better roles but is on such a run of form at the moment that he shines in amongst his fellow stars. Sam Neill and Bryan Brown are also standouts, their emotional repression is a key plot point, and they both manage to get is across with a pitch that doesn’t spoil the fun.
The trio of women are just as good, although they find themselves with the worse of the writing to play out. Their issues are resigned to being offshoots of their husbands’ problems, which makes the emotional depth far shallower than it could have been. Eva and Bridget fall victim to this, both of their arcs rely solely on their husbands waking up to themselves and seeing they are losing something great. Regardless, they are talented enough to generate just as much charming fun as the rest of the cast.
Palm Beach is far from perfect. The script is flawed and has a knack for being overly dramatic. However, the brilliant ensemble always manages to draw you back in whenever a plot point is just a bit too much. All in all, this is another solid Australian film for 2019.
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