MORE THAN FRIENDS

STARS ALIGN FOR AUSSIE FILM HEAVY ON DRAMA AND LAV­ISH LIFE­STYLES

Life & Style Weekend - - SCREENLIFE - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN

AChrist­mas 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.

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

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