One can almost imagine the makers of Palm Beach calling a meeting to declare to themselves and each other: “If we pooled our considerable talents, we could give Australian cinema audiences something that might actually persuade them to part with their money at the ticket counter. You know, something that doesn’t leave them in a sense of despair of about the human race, but also doesn’t feel too pandering or complacently glib. Let’s reign in any high-art instincts and just work towards creating a cheerful, warm-hearted, unpretentious (yet serious-minded) movie experience.”
This they have certainly managed to do, mixing together gentle laughs, picturesque settings, lustrous cinematography, a charismatic cast, some close-call drama, just a dash of class conflict, and happy endings all around (including, with luck, the one at the box office). Audiences will indeed respond well to Palm Beach, because the film is undeniably skillful at weaving its particular brand of magic onto the screen, and it worked very nicely indeed while it was playing.
Rachel Ward, directing her second theatrical feature, has gathered together a top-drawer ensemble of Aussie/NZ performers – including her husband Bryan Brown, Greta Scacchi, Sam Neil, Jacqueline McKenzie, and Heather Mitchell – plus that incomparable embodiment of British eccentricity, Richard E. Grant.
Collaborating with Joanna Murray-Smith on the screenplay, Ward has crafted a portrait of humanity that concentrates its focus mostly on the twilight of existence and some of its associated issues, with contrast provided by a number of more youthful family/friends to balance out the tapestry. The result is a story that should resonate across generations as well as gender lines.
Perhaps, in the long run, it adds up to an attractive diversion rather than an artistically valuable or distinctively insightful achievement, but it’s an easy enough business to accept a movie on these terms when the experience is so likeable and heartfelt.
Palm Beach opens next Thursday, 8th August.