Current Issue #488

Film Review: Top End Wedding

Film Review: Top End Wedding

Half romantic comedy, half road movie, Top End Wedding sees Miranda Tapsell showcase the Northern Territory’s people and country while telling some deeper truths about modern Australia.

We begin in non-descript corporate Adelaide, where Lauren (Tapsell) gets a promotion and a wedding proposal on the same day. She and fiancé Ned (Gwilym Lee fresh from Bohemian Rhapsody and sans Brian May wig) head home to Darwin for a hastily arranged wedding, where they find Lauren’s mother Daffy (Ursula Yovich) is AWOL. The discovery sets Tapsell and Lee off on a road trip through the Territory to retrace Daffy’s journey of self-discovery while also going on their own.

One of the great clichés of romantic comedies is the setting (usually New York City) acting as a third character, with opening titles splashing out over a familiar looking montage of iconic skyscrapers and jostling pedestrians. Tapsell, co-writer Joshua Taylor and director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires), clearly have a similar goal in mind for the Northern Territory, and its striking scenery and eccentric quirks (Jabiru’s crocodile-shaped hotel receives an appropriately lingering wide shot) are on full display in the film’s middle act. At times however, this makes Top End Wedding lag as a convoluted race to retrace Daffy’s steps seems more driven by a checklist of tourism campaign-worthy money shots than story.

Similarly, the requisite mid-film relationship conflict between our couple at times feels more like a capitulation to the expected beats of the genre. But that’s partly because any familiar ‘race to the altar’ plotline is far less compelling than Lauren’s relationship with her mother and heritage. As a young woman, Daffy left her family and culture behind to get married, creating a feeling of loss that has resurfaced later in life and passed on as a previously undefined void in her daughter.

That theme is literally brought home the moment Lauren touches down in her mother’s birthplace in the Tiwi Islands, where everything just clicks for both Lauren and the film itself. Greeted enthusiastically by an uncle she has never met, the colour, energy and enveloping sense of welcome that meet Laura makes for powerful and entertaining cinema, even as the joy of reunion is tempered by sadness for time and connections lost.

As Ned, Lee fully understands the brief of post-Hugh Grant male lead, and scenes where he navigates Lauren’s father Trevor’s (Huw Higginson) very different idea of masculinity pay off beautifully. But as star and co-writer, Tapsell is the heart of the film, and it’s impossible not to be swept along with Lauren and the entertaining ensemble cast she encounters along the way (Elaine Crombie, Shari Sebbens and Dalara Williams are particularly good value as Lauren’s Darwin squad).

From an early graphic of Lauren and Ned’s plane flying over a map of Australia – rendered with the continent’s many Indigenous language groups and territories –  to the sound of Adelaide group Electric Fields pumping away in the background of a Darwin bar, the film bursts with small but meaningful aesthetic choices that make it clear this is no typical romantic comedy. And while Top End Wedding certainly earns its place alongside genre staples like Bridesmaids and Four Weddings and a Funeral, not to mention the canon of Australian films like Muriel’s Wedding and Strictly Ballroom, one can’t help but wonder what stories Tapsell has to tell outside such boxes.

Top End Wedding (M) is in cinemas from May 2

Header image:
John Platt / Universal

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