A home among the gum trees; panoramic views of unspoiled coastline; white picket fence with a boundless backyard for the little ’uns to run and play–– in some form this is the embodiment of the Australian dream. But for Frank (Bryan Brown) and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi), it is more than just the eyesore of the neighbour’s chimney permeating their idyllic life in Palm Beach. A weekend of celebrating Frank’s birthday; between old bandmates, friends and family unravels a scandal that could tear decades of the Pacific Sideburns members’ friendship apart.
Palm Beach follows a cyclical structure opening with the pop of champagne bottles, a salacious spread to rival any Australian Christmas feast and a joyous reunion among life-long friends and family. It doesn’t take long for the smoke and mirrors act to unveil itself for what it is ––a group of individuals living with their own demons.
Born from a Christmas celebrated in Wales with Brown’s own family and friends, the story of Palm Beach is a raw depiction of people coming together through individual struggles and trauma. Brown brings his own experience of anxiety to the internal struggle of Frank––a washed-up band manager living the “high life” surrounded by family and friends who uses his cheque book as a Band-Aid to fix voids in his own life.
Meanwhile band-members and best mates Leo (Sam Neill) and Billy (Richard E.Grant) are battling their own inner turmoil; both with secrets that could jeopardise the bonds of a life-long friendship. The women hold their own vulnerabilities close, with matriarch Charlotte numbing her trauma by overcompensating as a host with a “show must go on” attitude. Eva (Heather Mitchell) and Bridgette (Jacqueline McKenzie) simultaneously embody insecurity and divine feminine power, often able to give rather than take their own advice.
The dynamics of character relationships gives the audience permission to lean on friends and family in a time of need and take off the masks they wear to impress those around them. At the premiere screening, Bryan Brown had a powerfully simple message for the audience.
“Yes, you have this and it’s real and it’s got to be dealt with, but family and friends get you through this!”
“Friendships are a big part of what the story is trying to say.”
“They don’t ask for anything more than all the things they’ve learnt about who you are over the years,” Brown says.
As much as Palm Beach is a story about the power of friendship it also passes comment on a broader issue in Australia and the world-toxic masculinity and men’s mental health.
Speaking about his character, Brown shared with the audience the emotional subtext of Frank.
“This is the first character I’ve played who is not in charge of [his] emotions.”
“I don’t know who Frank is but it has to feel real for people to understand it.”
“I play men––Australian men, sometimes they’re strong, sometimes they’re weak, sometimes they’re struggling; and this guy’s struggling more than others I’ve played,” Brown says.
In perfect synchronicity, the characters in this movie come into their vulnerability surrounded by family and friends just as Brown was able to; working with his wife Rachel Ward––director of this Australian story––and daughter on and off-screen, Matilda Brown.
This family affair, in every sense of the word, premiered at this year’s Sydney Film Festival and will be playing at Luna cinemas from August 8th 2019.