Actor and writer Miranda Tapsell makes her contribution to the canon of classic Australian comedies with Top End Wedding, a ‘rom com’ that speaks to a pluralistic Australian experience.
“I wanted to show how romantic the place is,” Tapsell says of the film’s setting, which begins in the court buildings of Victoria Square before heading north to a string of stunning locations including Darwin, Katherine and the Tiwi Islands. “I feel like the way the [Northern] Territory is often depicted is: ‘the highest place for UFO sightings’ or ‘people with secrets go there’ and crocodiles and all the NT News headlines. It was nice to show the Territory that I knew and grew up with.”
Tapsell and Top End Wedding co-writer Joshua Taylor met while teaching drama, where they discovered a shared love of the romantic comedy genre. “Naturally, when you’re talking about film and theatre you start talking about your favourites, and I noticed we were talking a lot about When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral and a lot of rom coms. Josh was one of the few people who had been up to the Northern Territory and had a great time, and said, ‘Why don’t we set one up there?’”
Setting a romantic comedy in northern Australia also allowed Tapsell to refashion the genre’s familiar tropes and beats to make something new. “It was tough, because as much as I love the genre there isn’t a Lauren,” she says of her character in the film. “So I was thinking, ‘okay, how does Lauren see the world? What has been her lived experience?’ Because it’s not Meg Ryan’s, it’s not Reese Witherspoon’s or Katherine Heigl’s. What’s her perspective?”
The film begins when Adelaide lawyer Lauren’s (Tapsell) appropriately foppish partner Ned (Gwilym Lee) proposes, workplace pressure sees her decide to get married within the fortnight – back home in Darwin, of course. The problem? Her mother Daffy (Ursula Yovich) has disappeared, and as Lauren and Ned hit the road to find her they retrace a journey to reconnect with the family, culture and country that Daffy left behind. As Lauren follows her mother home to the Tiwi Islands, we realise that sense of loss is something she has been grappling with, too.
“Everyone knows that Australia is a functioning multicultural society,” she says. “But I feel like a lot of marginalised groups need to give up what makes them unique and what makes them special, what makes a community thrive.
“Unfortunately, I feel like if you’re going to fit into Australia, you have to fit into meat pies, drinking XXXX beer… and there’s more to Australia than that. And I really wanted to show that in the Territory as well. Because I know how special and unique it is, and I know how little Australians travel around our country. I wanted to bring the Territory to them, and I wanted to show them how special the people are up there.”
It’s a sentiment that seems increasingly universal as the film makes its way around the world. “While the Maori experience, the Native American experience is very different to ours, they saw the parallels in what it means to be Indigenous and proudly Indigenous, and I’m so glad they could see that and found solidarity in that. That really meant the world to me.”
From Ali’s Wedding to Nakkiah Lui’s 2018 play Black is the New White, Top End Wedding is part of a new wave of work using the romantic comedy genre to show audiences a kind of Australian experience that isn’t reflected in the cast of Neighbours. For Tapsell, it’s part of a great tradition in Australian film.
“I feel like Australia has had this incredible history of making really joyous and funny films that can almost speak to something deeper as well,” she says. “We’ve had Muriel’s Wedding, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom, which have really reached audiences around the world. And I feel like because I grew up loving those movies so much, and because I love the rom com genre so much, I thought there’s so much you can say through joy and laughter and happiness.
“That’s just how a lot of Aboriginal people have gotten through hard times; they’ve gotten through it with humour and heart and care. So that’s why I believe you can tell a story that way.”
Top End Wedding is in cinemas from May 2