Beautiful Palm Beach ... don't go there 
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Justinian in Critics' Corner, Film review, Miss Lumière

Palm Beach, directed by Rachel Ward and starring the usual suspects ... Sponsored by the NSW government, so you know what to expect ... The stars phone it in ... Miss Lumière hacks the celluloid to pieces 

Waste of a good beach

The Big Chill it ain't. 

More like the small shiver that runs down your spine when you realise - at around ten seconds in - what a colossal waste of talent, time and money Rachel Ward's latest offering is.

Palm Beach is about the reunion of a group of old (read baby boomer) friends in sunny, bobo (bourgeois bohemian) Palm Beach, set to a corny catalogue of boomer hits. 

They are grizzled in various ways (Brian Brown at his leathery worst) and in the finest soap opera tradition, they harbour both resentments and adulterous genetic secrets. 

Brown's Frank, a wealthy, blokey retiree, has invited his old "Pacific Sideburns" band mates and their spouses to celebrate his 73rd birthday at his gorgeous Palm Beach pad.

The plot, such as it is, is sudsy, flat and featureless, quite an achievement given the screenplay was co-written by acclaimed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith and the director.

Ward, who previously directed the darkly powerful Beautiful Kate, a film about incest starring her husband Brown, Ben Mendelsohn, Rachel Griffiths and the wondrous Sophie Lowe, has described this film as a comic dramedy, or a dramatic comedy.

Which is a little like admitting it's a dog's breakfast. It is, without the crunchy bits.

Miss Lumiere sat mesmerised as Palm Beach skidded off the rails in every conceivable respect - from the clunky writing and ham-fisted directing to some of the sloppiest acting recently committed to film by an Australian cast.

Odd, since Palm Beach's cast includes some very fine actors indeed - Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Heather Mitchell, Richard E. Grant and Jacqueline McKenzie.

Neill, who Miss Lumiere could happily watch sleeping on screen, does little more than sleepwalk his way through a paper-thin part in shorts. 

Grant hams and mugs shamelessly, although he has the best lines (and legs) by far, Mitchell provides some brittle depth to an otherwise insubstantial cliché (the aging actress) and McKenzie is just miscast.

The less said about Greta Scacchi's performance the better. Suffice to say, there's a reason she was entirely believable as a sex object in the 80s. 

As an earth-mother psychotherapist married to Brown's laconic Aussie Frank, she is tearfully overwrought and disturbingly overweight.

Which is really no surprise given the endless scenes of tables groaning with oysters in their shells and prawns from the barbie and vats of Veuve Cliquot.

If it all looks like a Destination NSW advertising fantasy, that's probably because Palm Beach was partly funded by the government tourism body. 

They got their money's worth.

Palm Beach is the most interesting character in the film, seen from various shimmering angles in many golden lights. 

Even Palmy's well-known eating hole, "The Boathouse", features. Pity the Boathouse Group went into receivership only a few months before the film's release. 

But back to this poor excuse for celebrity on celluloid. Not all the acting is abysmal. 

Brown delivers one genuinely moving moment - and it's not when the famously wooden actor confides to Grant's character Billy that he can no longer muster a "woody".

Two younger characters, Frank's directionless son Dan (a painfully convincing Charlie Vickers) and Holly (Claire van der Boom) the talented musician daughter of a deceased former band member, bring the screen alive. 

A shame their roles are so miserably underwritten.

Aside from Destination NSW's funding, it's a mystery why Palm Beach was ever made.

At 100 minutes long, it's around 100 minutes too long. 

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