My fear going into Top End Wedding was that it would be My Big Fat
Greek Aboriginal Wedding or Crazy Non-Rich Non Asians.
What I got was a pleasant surprise. The film was bittersweet rather than trying to be madcap, and the clash of cultures was an integral part of the story without it being a cheap shortcut for generic laughs.
Miranda Tapsell plays Lauren, the sort of overachieving, underconfident ingénue that populate romcoms in higher numbers than in real life. The opening work scene, where Lauren surveys a conference room and gets powdered sugar on her blouse just before her boss walks in doesn’t show much promise. It plays like a sitcom. When Lauren gets her promotion and decides with her boyfriend (Joshua Taylor) to tie the knot, I was just about to pull the plug.
But the movie shifts gears (and tone) after the opening act. Lauren feels in her gut that she needs to return home for the wedding. Then she finds out her mother has disappeared and must go looking for her. The quest for the missing parent allows the supporting cast to be a little nutty and the leads to settle in and show a bit more range. As the film examines the potential reasons for mom’s disappearance we gather insights not only into Lauren’s psychological make up but also into a culture wrestling with its own attempts to come together.
That sounds much more heavy-handed than the film actually is. Yes, the micro (mixed-race marriage) reflects the macro (mixed-race culture) and vice-versa, but the larger cultural issues are manifested in the particular relationship rather than the relationship simply being a vehicle to present generic political messages about race prejudice.
One feature that I liked about the film was that the sorts of characters who normally are reduced to caricature in Hollywood movies, like Lauren’s boss, are gradually revealed to be…human. As Lauren goes searching for her mom, she relies on friends to work out the logistics of the wedding. Whereas a lot of American films would treat the wedding as a production that had to be executed, this film wisely stays with the principal character on her quest, understanding that how Lauren prepares for marriage is more important than how smoothly she plans her wedding.
Top End Wedding is not a faith film, but a key scene takes pace in a church. I liked that. Just as the racial make up of Australia is represented incidentally rather than pointedly, so too are the religious beliefs and practices. This is not a film that is going to make millions of dollars or win awards at film festivals, but it is modest, entertaining, and thoughtful.