Bryan Brown, Greta Scacchi, Sam Neill, Jacqueline McKenzie, Richard E. Grant, Heather Mitchell, Matilda Brown, Aaron Jeffery
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…sometimes a miniature canvas can hold pleasing details.
Calling your film after a specific place seems like a deliberate choice, and one with both pros and cons. In one way it grounds it in reality, in a known milieu and even a sensibility. In another way, it potentially shuts out those who might not know where the place is or the associations. For those who are not lucky enough to live in the far northern beaches of Sydney’s Palm Beach, it is, by the way, quite paradisaical. Director Rachel Ward takes ample advantage of the calming scenery to offset the tensions that erupt between her leads in this multi-narrative look at a certain kind of late middle-aged experience.
The film takes place on one long weekend when a bunch of old friends descend on a beautiful beach house for a catch up and to celebrate a significant birthday. One is tempted to say it is sort of The Big Chill meets Don’s Party, but that’s not quite right. The film does obey the convention of little scenes in which various pairs go off to have deep and meaningfuls, interspersed with boisterous group scenes in which a few personal fireworks go off. The problem for the film of course is to make us care enough about the characters and their dilemmas.
The film has been unfairly criticised for being about ‘first world problems’, but that is silly in another way as ordinary lives matter too, and a film doesn’t have to relate to global events to be worthwhile.
One thing you can say for the director, Rachel Ward, is that she is very well connected in Australian film terms, and she plays to that strength. She directs actors with a loving touch. It also enables her to assemble an ensemble cast that reads like a who’s who of Aussie screen talent. How can any film that has Bryan Brown, Greta Scacchi, Sam Neill, Heather Mitchel, and Jacqueline McKenzie be bad? And then add in the wonderfully lugubrious Richard E. Grant as well.
If anything, the film is a shade too gloomy! The characters are bathed in the warm glow of great sunsets and long-term friendships but so many of them are feeling lost or depressed. Maybe that is just what ageing can bring for some? As Bette Davis famously quipped, “growing old ain’t for cissies”.
Ward makes rather few films these days which is a shame because she is an accomplished director (Beautiful Kate), who could perhaps handle more challenging material than this. Still, sometimes a miniature canvas can hold pleasing details.