Palm Beach is a reunion story – a kind of Aussie version of The Big Chill, except where the latter was about baby-boomers on the verge of middle age, Palm Beach is about baby-boomers on the verge of….not exactly old age, let’s say they’re nearing the end of middle age.
Yes, I said ‘middle age’, even if most of them are pushing 70. But we all know that 70 is the new 60, which is the new 50 and so on merrily back to youth, which doesn’t end these days until you’re 40, I think we can all agree. I can hear you millennials scoffing, but I bet YOU won’t be going gently into that good night any more than we baby-boomers are doing, IF you’re lucky enough to get to our age, that is!
So there. Now where was I?
Brian Brown plays Frank, who appears to have achieved the Aussie dream, from the look of his Palm Beach pad. He’s about to turn 73 (why not one with a zero? I wonder) and has invited two old mates and their spouses/partners for a multi-generational party weekend to celebrate.
Sam Neill and Richard E Grant play the mates. The great bond between the three of them is the band they had back in the seventies – ‘The Pacific Sideburns’. None of them stayed on in the music biz; they’ve all gone on to other things with varying degrees of success, but the fate of their one big hit, a song called ‘Fearless’, becomes a source of conflict (and amusement) later on as the weekend progresses.
Success, failure, family conflict….these are predictable themes in such a story. Sex comes into it, of course, but as ancient history involving an old act of infidelity, not as a current wellspring of passion. In fact these oldies spend more time talking about their health problems than they do about sex, which might be why some younger folk say they found the story boring. But it’ll ring bells for baby-boomers, and it’s exactly this mature perspective that made Palm Beach enjoyable for me.
There are young folks in the story, of course, even if they aren’t the main characters. Everybody’s had kids. I had some trouble working out the relationships at first: which kids belonged to who, who was a stepchild, who was a younger new spouse. And I was distracted for a while trying to pick which lovely young woman was Matilda Brown, the real-life daughter of Brian Brown and Rachel Ward.
Ward isn’t in the movie but she directs it, and she co-wrote the script with playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. Both are Australian Ladies of a Certain Age, as are the actors who play the mates’ spouses – Heather Mitchell and Jacqueline McKenzie.
Greta Scacchi, like Rachel Ward once a great screen beauty, plays Brown’s wife, and it’s a treat to see her and the other older women ‘comfortable in their skin’, as we say these days. Scacchi has famously said she had no inclination to have herself cut and sliced and pumped and filled in order to appear younger than she is. Good on her.
I like that Palm Beach portrays these characters naturally and realistically, not as comical old fogey stereotypes. These folks aren’t making fools of themselves with reckless bucket-list stunts or ill-conceived road trips or doing nude calendars or moving to cheap funky hotels in India.
Yes, kids, your worst fears are realised. We baby-boomers are still hanging on to the wealth and the reins of power. AND we’re still casting ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. Mwah-ha-ha-hahaaaa!!!
[It’s got a great generational nostalgia soundtrack too.]