Bryan Brown, Richard E Grant, Greta Scacchi and Heather Mitchell in a scene from the movie Palm Beach. Supplied by Universal Pictures.
Bryan Brown, Richard E Grant, Greta Scacchi and Heather Mitchell in a scene from the movie Palm Beach. Supplied by Universal Pictures. Elise Lockwood

Palm Beach serves up message on messy realities of life

A Christmas holiday in Wales inspired husband-and-wife duo Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown's new film Palm Beach.

Ward directs and Brown produces and stars in the comedy drama about a group of lifelong friends who gather to celebrate a milestone birthday, only for conviviality to give way to the messy realities of life.

"We were staying with friends of mine and basically he was observing the husbands of girlfriends of mine I've known for a long time,” Ward says.

"They were going through a bit of an existential crisis. Even since we've made the film we've become more and more aware of the mental health issues that go around that time in life when they're giving up work, being retrenched or selling businesses - these men whose work defined them are suddenly finding they're in another stage in life.

"It's a challenge for a lot of people, doesn't matter how ordinary your life has been. It's a big shift for people to enter that stage in life and that's what we're discussing and examining in the film.

"There's no stage where people ever stop struggling in life. It's not like you suddenly reach a time in life where everything stops.”

The film opens with Frank (Brown) and Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) busily preparing their fabulous home on Sydney's northern beaches for a weekend of celebrations for Frank's birthday.

Director of photography Bonnie Elliott and director Rachel Ward on the set of the movie Palm Beach. Supplied by Universal Pictures.
Director of photography Bonnie Elliott and director Rachel Ward on the set of the movie Palm Beach. Supplied by Universal Pictures. Elise Lockwood

The views are to die for and the food looks fabulous. As the guests arrive, the champagne starts flowing and the characters are slowly introduced.

The trio at the centre of this gathering is made up of Frank and his oldest friends Leo (Sam Neill) and Billy (Richard E. Grant), who all met in their 20s when they formed the promising but eventually unsuccessful rock group The Pacific Sideburns.

After the group dissolved they went off in their own directions - Frank found the most success as an entrepreneur, Leo is a journalist and Billy writes jingles.

Rounding out the group are Leo's wife Bridget (Jacqueline Mckenzie) and stepdaughter (Frances Berry), Billy's actress wife Eva (Heather Mitchell), Holly (Claire Van Der Boom), the daughter of late Pacific Sideburns lead singer Roxy, and her new beau Doug (Aaron Jeffery), and Frank and Charlotte's children Dan (Charlie Vickers) and Ella (Matilda Brown).

Over the course of the weekend, secrets begin to emerge and a potentially catastrophic accident propels the old friends to confrontation.

All that drama is set against a beautiful and enviable backdrop. Ward makes no apologies for the film's magazine-worthy interiors and lavish trappings.

"We're drip-fed this idealism that if you get all the material trappings it brings happiness. Obviously it doesn't,” she says.

"There's a great visceral pleasure in seeing beautiful things, beautiful settings and delicious food. As we know, people are very addicted to that. As Australians we're used to identifying ourselves as the underdog or the outlaw but I think it's true of ourselves any more. We're quite an affluent, middle-class country. We can't go on taking refuge in the fact that we're working-class battlers. That's something, mercifully, of another era. We were very attached to this idea of knowing there are Australians who have very fabulous, comfortable lifestyles. This is obviously one of the more fabulous ones but taken with an ironic licence.

"It was fun to try to recreate something paradisical.”

Palm Beach opens on Thursday

STARS: Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Jacqueline McKenzie, Richard E. Grant, Heather Mitchell

DIRECTOR: Rachel Ward

RATING: M

REVIEWER'S LAST WORD: This reunion of lifelong friends boasts a fabulous cast, who aregiven room to be funny, wry and a bit naughty in this boisterous and beautiful Aussie drama.