Released: 16th May
Seen: 13th May (Advance Screening)
Aussie films don’t really get a lot of love when it comes to the box office. They don’t really get big releases, even in their native country, and they’re often relegated to independent cinemas or even just the sands of time. Sure you might know some of the big ones like Priscilla or Mad Max but those are few and far between. Very often an Aussie film is just relegated to footnotes in a release schedule, ignored by the mainstream. Hell, during the two years that I’ve been doing this I can count on one hand the amount of Australian film’s that I’ve been able to see in cinemas. They’re rare as hen’s teeth and never get the respect that they’re due so it’s a nice change to see one that actually got a decent amount of promotion down here and also just happens to be one of the most charming films that have been produced by this little sunburnt country.
Top End Wedding follows Ned (Gwilym Lee) and Lauren (Miranda Tapsell), a couple of Sydney-siders who are more likely to be in a boardroom or a courtroom than the outback. After quitting his job, Ned decides to take the plunge and ask Lauren to marry him and she says yes but with one condition. The wedding has to be up in her hometown of Darwin with her mother and father. Thanks to her boss giving her 10 days off work, they have just enough time to head up to the top end of the country and have the wedding before coming back. There’s one tiny snag though. When they turn up to Lauren’s home they find her father, Trevor (Huw Higginson) intermittently locking himself in a cupboard and listening to music by Chicago. He’s doing this because his wife Daffy (Ursula Yovich), aka Lauren’s mum, has run off without telling him where she’s gone. Lauren, refusing to have her wedding without her mother there, and Ned decide that they have to find just where Lauren’s mother went as fast as they can, no matter how far up the top end they have to go.
If this film is anything, it’s confident about what kind of film it is. It never shies away from the label of Rom-Com, embracing it wholeheartedly with the kind of purity that is so beautiful when you see it done well. While the structure is simple, the details make it soar. The relationship between the two leads isn’t just believable, it’s downright charming. There’s something about them that makes you fall for them both within minutes of meeting them and they bounce off each other amazingly when the time comes to start throwing banter around. They’re an easy couple to love and, therefore, an easy couple to want to see succeed. It’s also incredibly easy to love their family, particularly Trevor who is just the sweetest old sad sack so you just want him to get out of the cupboard and find his wife. Even Daffy, who by rights we should be mad at since she abandoned everyone and started this entire drama, is a kind instantly lovable character with hardships of her own (brought on by a third act reveal that I won’t spoil, but it will pull at the heartstrings). Throw in a gaggle of bridesmaids and a gay uncle who does drag along with a bunch of SisterGirls (Aboriginal trans women) and you have a recipe for an eclectic cast that works together brilliantly. Everyone’s really likable and there are no real antagonists. The only real obstacle these people have to come up against is the problems of their past coming back to bite them.
It’s lovely to see a film that not only embraces Indigenous culture but is celebrating it at every turn. From obvious things like a cast that’s predominantly Indigenous, to details like the map of Australia used in animated segments being the Aiatsis map of Indigenous Australia (the map that is used to represent the language, tribal or nation groups of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It not only makes the story feel a lot more personal for the main character, who also helped write the script, but it makes the film feel richer. There’s a lot more vibrancy to be found by taking the story of ‘finding who you are before you get married’ and taking that to the logical endpoint of having the main character need to go to her home on the Tiwi islands. It really makes this story feel unique even while it’s following a very standard Rom-Com story.
The film also packs a visual punch, often indulging itself with a little bit of Australian Scenery Porn where the camera will just linger on a shot of the outback for a very long time, to the point where you half expect a Tourism Australia logo to pop up. It makes really good use of the outback landscape, even though I will admit I find it a bit weird that someone would make a trail of petals that goes for so long that it requires a ferry ride to get to the end of it, but they still find a way to make it work. There are a few moments where the desire to show off the landscape as much as possible does create some moments that feel a little bit forced, like suddenly throwing on the parking brake to skid along an empty road before making a very casual turn to Katherine, but these moments are rare enough that they just fly by.
Top End Wedding feels like a nice warm bath, easy and comforting to slip into and enjoy for an hour and a half. Sure some parts are a little off and some jokes might not land quite right but any film that has the self-confidence to put “Not finished yet” on the screen before the credits to make sure the audience stays there until they’re done is a film that’s worth a chance. Think of this as your one Aussie film for the year, since I have no idea when the next big one comes out because our industry is busy making Dora the Explorer instead of our own stories… so, yeah, ENJOY.