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The film Ella (Matilda Brown) is watching is the 2001 short film 'The Big House' which her real life mother and 'Palm Beach' director Rachel Ward previously wrote and directed during the early 2000s. See more »
Palm Beach, which premiered as the opening film of this year's Sydney Film Festival, tells the story of a group of good friends who have a few secrets. Those secrets are bound to surface at some point. Why not do it while celebrating a birthday?
Director Rachel Ward co-wrote the story with Joanna Murray-Smith, which tackles some ethical predicaments and feelings that get repressed with (expected) catastrophic consequences. Every year we get a similar scenario presented to us on television or even on the big screen, so why do we keep making these films? The difference with Palm Beach, is that I couldn't sympathise with any of these characters. Rich white people having rich white people problems - can't relate.
That doesn't mean these stories aren't allowed to have a platform to be told, everyone wants to escape their daily life at some point and peek through a window to see what happens behind closed doors. The film takes place in the titular Sydney suburb - blue skies and crystal clear waves everywhere you look. Three members of our group of friends (Bryan Brown, Sam Neil and Richard E. Grant), used to form the band Pacific Sideburns. Their partners and children are also present and ready for a weekend of beachy tranquility.
The evening our friends arrive at Frank (Brown) and his wife Charlotte's (Greta Scacchi) house, Leo (Neill) mentions to Charlotte the pact they formed a very long time ago. Not entirely clear why he recalls this pact so suddenly, this causes the amicable vibe in the house to rise with a few degrees and everyone seems to be feeling this tension. This secretive pact lingers in the background while everyone passes their days behind luscious cheese boards and champagne by the crate, in and around Frank and Charlotte's lush hilltop habitat with panoramic view. A panoramic view ruined by a chimney, which becomes a daily discussion topic that drives Frank to his boiling point.
Cinematographer Bonnie Elliott does a great job showing off the beautiful beaches of Sydney and the nighttime scenes, but when it comes to garden gatherings it all looks a little bit too much like a commercial of some kind. The glossiness makes it look like as if some scenes were shot on an indoor-set, while I'm pretty sure this wasn't her intention. Nonetheless, a great effort that lifted the film to a higher level.
The problems these characters face are nothing but drama on the surface while being comfortable in their day-to-day life - shallow and smug. But like I said before, why tell a story that has been told in different forms many times before, if there isn't a character to relate with or feel sympathy for? The cast does a great job though. There wasn't a single person that I could point out as being a bad actor, neither was there a performance considered to be scene-stealing.
Going in with low expectations, I thought the first half was more interesting than the second. Clocking in at 100 minutes, the film feels a lot longer and without any real stakes, there's no satisfying ending to look forward to. Palm Beach is a film without a purpose and could easily be dropped on a streaming platform, to attract a bigger audience or people wanting to check it out without paying extra for it.
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