Palm Beach, a dramatic comedy set in the opulent north Sydney enclave of the same name, is an unexpectedly light-hearted departure from Ward’s critically acclaimed directorial debut Beautiful Kate (2009).
Boasting a line-up of Australian and New Zealand screen veterans (with the addition of Richard E Grant, fresh from his Oscar-nominated role in Can You Ever Forgive Me?), this down-to-earth hybrid of comedy and drama is targeted directly at a mature movie-goer demographic.
In celebration of his 73rd birthday, Frank (Bryan Brown) and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) have gathered together friends and family in their breathtaking Palm Beach abode. Joining them are couples Leo (Sam Neill) and Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie) along with Billy (Grant) and Eva (Heather Mitchell).
The friendship extends back decades, with the men representing three-quarters of the one-hit-wonder band The Pacific Sideburns, who had their brief moment of fame back in the 1970s. The younger generation are also in attendance, represented by the now-adult children of the various band members, Dan (Charlie Vickers), Ella (Matilda Brown, real-life daughter of Ward and Brown), Caitlin (Frances Berry) and Holly (Claire van der Boom).
Once the weekend gets underway, the initial delight in the reunion erodes, laying bare the underlying tensions and issues that generally accompany ageing and long-term relationships. Health scares, inability to deal with retirement, career deceleration, simmering resentments, attractions and jealousies – everything is bubbling away beneath the surface and all it takes is a little alcohol, close quarters and a boating accident to bring it to a head.
The script by Rachel Ward and acclaimed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith is deftly handled by the cast, for whom playing a gaggle of old friends is not much of a stretch – that’s exactly what they are. They’ve all known each other for decades, with all the main cast and crew overlapping on various sets over their lengthy careers.
While not many viewers would be fortunate enough to experience the level of luxury enjoyed by Frank, Charlotte and their friends, the themes it touches on are far more relatable. This is a film guaranteed to resonate with people who understand the reality of maintaining long-standing relationships that at times can feel held together more by nostalgia and shared history than common ground.