TOP END WEDDING

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Wayne Blair

Stars; MIranda Tapsell, Gwilym Lee, Huw Higginson, Kerry Fox, Shari Sebbens, Ursula Yovich, Tracy Mann, Elaine Crombie, Dalara Williams, Matt Crook.

Lawyers in love?

Miranda Tapsell in Top End Wedding (2019)

The third feature from Wayne Blair (director of the award winning The Sapphires, etc), Top End Wedding is an uneven, formulaic and predictable indigenous romantic comedy set in the Northern Territory.

Adelaide lawyer Lauren (Miranda Tapsell, from the tv series Love Child, etc) and her bumbling English fiancé Ned (Gwilym Lee, who recently played guitarist Brian May in Bohemian Rhapsody) are an interracial couple who plan to get married. Ned is something of a milquetoast who has just resigned his post as a prosecutor but has not been able to sum up the courage to inform Lauren of his decision.

Lauren wants a traditional aboriginal wedding in her hometown of Darwin. Her boss, the fussy Hampton (veteran Kerry Fox), allows her ten days leave so she can get married. But when the couple arrive in Darwin they learn that Lauren’s mother Daffy (Ursula Yovich) has disappeared on a” journey of self- discovery.” Her father Trevor (Huw Higginson, from the long running tv series The Bill, etc) is devastated and struggling to cope with her absence. He sobs piteously while listening to Chicago’s ballad If You Leave Me Now on endless loop. A prologue to the film, set on Tiwi Island in 1976, shows the younger Daphne running from the local church, abandoning her own nuptials to flee to the mainland. Maybe there is a sense of history unfortunately repeating itself here as Lauren insists that the wedding cannot proceed until Daphne has been found.

With the nuptials in jeopardy, Ned and Lauren set off on a road journey into the heart of the outback in search of Daphne. They leave Hampton in charge of the wedding planning. And Ned’s snooty mother (Tracy Mann) is less than impressed with the thought of her son’s tribal wedding in the outback. Lauren and Ned embark on a road journey that eventually leads the couple to Tiwi Island, Daphne’s traditional home land, and they uncover some family secrets along the way.

Top End Wedding has been written by its star Tapsell, who cowrote the screenplay with first time feature film writer Joshua Tyler (the tv series Plonk, etc), but it is formulaic and reworks many of the familiar tropes of the genre, including a series of miscommunications between the couple and a syrupy soundtrack. The film seems tonally uneven with a very busy narrative and some contrived plot devices that don’t necessarily work. The film explores themes of family, indigenous issues, the clash of cultures, tradition, self-discovery and identity. However, the very busy plot also seems episodic at times.

The first part of the film relies heavily on some clumsy slapstick and clunky dialogue and seems unevenly paced. But it settles down and becomes less hurried and frenetic by the end for the cliched wedding ceremony.

Blair has cast some nonprofessional Tiwi islanders for the film’s climactic sequences, which lends an authenticity to the material. The wedding also features some nice native costume design from Heather Wallace (The Rover, Cargo, etc).

The film highlights some superb scenery, beautifully shot in widescreen by cinematographer Eric Murray Lui (The Family Law, etc) who captures some stunning landscapes of a part of Australia rarely seen on screen.

Tapsell, reunited with her Sapphires director here, is charming enough and has plenty of energy. The demands of the early physical comedy make for a nice change of pace for Lee, although he sometimes seems a little awkward and uncomfortable. Fox brings an austere quality to her imperious Hampton, who gradually softens her persona as the demands of the approaching wedding take effect.

Top End Wedding is visually gorgeous but this romcom proves to be less of a crowd pleaser and universally appealing film than The Sapphires.

★★☆

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