Palm Beach

Year: 2019
Production Co: Soapbox Industries
Director: Rachel Ward
Writer: Joanna Murray-Smith/Rachel Ward
Cast: Bryan Brown, Greta Scacchi, Sam Neill, Richard E Grant, Jacqueline McKenzie, Heather Mitchell, Matilda Brown, Aaron Jeffrey, Claire van der Boom

It seemed worth it to go and see this movie because it occupied a place at the other end of the spectrum from everything else in cinemas nowadays. Instead of superheroes it was about regular people, instead of VFX it had personal conflict, and instead of further spreading American phrases everywhere the people on the screen sounded like me. Affluent Aussie Retirees Assemble, maybe.

None of which means it's perfect. In fact it's not much more dramatic or absorbing than a 30 minute instalment of a soap opera – it only belongs on a cinema screen because of the rich, warm hues, the food and wine porn and the exquisite shots of the sun glittering on the calm bays of Pittwater.

In fact, to some extent the character conflict is just foil to move the action from one gorgeous outdoor terrace to another waterside restaurant, a picturesque jogging trail, sweeping shots of tables full of delicious looking food and cocktails and back again.

Leo (Sam Neill), his long-dead wife and Billy (Richard E Grant) were in a Sydney pub band 100 years ago that had one big hit. Frank (Bryan Brown) was their manager. After they all went their own ways Leo married single mum Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie) and raised her daughter with her. Billy returned to his native UK and is now seeing actress Eva (Heather Mitchell). Frank and longtime wife Charlotte (Greta Bacchic) had two kids, a daughter he dotes on and a son he treats terribly.

Frank subsequently made a fortune building up and selling a T shirt design business, and over a single fateful long weekend, he and Charlotte have flown everyone in to their Palm Beach pile to help celebrate Frank's upcoming birthday, associated kids, friends and lovers all in attendance.

But old wounds are opened up as soon as everyone lands. Leo, it seems, had a fling with Charlotte a long time ago that they've tried to forget about, but after a recent cancer scare he's decided he wants Charlotte to honour whatever drunken promise they once made in each other's arms.

Worse still, he suspects that Charlotte and Frank's son is really his own – he feels a much stronger bond with the boy than Frank does. Frank himself is feeling bereft and useless since selling his business, suffering impotence that's probably related, Charlotte has dealt with a bout of breast cancer and a mastectomy, Eva is feeling the pinch of age affecting her career prospects, Billy won't take their relationship seriously and Bridget can feel Leo pulling away from her.

Throw in a sudden boating accident, Billy (a successful ad exec) using their hit song behind their backs for a campaign for adult nappies and several other twists and turns and it adds up to an emotional melting pot that can't help but spill over amid the feasts, sumptuous bedrooms and copious amounts of wine and nibbles.

Director Rachel Ward is a better visualist than a writer – there are several points in the story when you'll lose track of who everyone is and how they fit together, and it's not just the number of characters, it's the script not being clear enough. It juggles a couple of subplots earnestly enough, but leaves a bit too much unsaid in what should have been a stronger backbone.

You'll also have a hard time believing these people don't all tell each other where to go and immediately clear out, so vicious are the fights and drama that start almost as soon as everyone arrives at the house.

But it's visually lush enough to be a welcome sight on a cinema screen rather than a TV, and to be honest, it's worth the money just to see this much Australian and Kiwi talent all together.

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