Australia is one of the world’s leading consumers of movies, but sadly, that enthusiasm does not extend to local productions, which lack the mass-appeal of the fare sourced from Hollywood. On occasion though, Australia does make such a film, and it always proves to be a charmer.
Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) are two Adelaideans madly in love with each other. The former is a businesswoman who has just earned a promotion; the latter, meanwhile, just quit his job as a lawyer, and is fearful of telling his beloved the news. Not wanting to spoil Lauren’s joy at being promoted, Ned decides to ask for her hand in marriage, an offer she readily accepts.
Planning for the wedding begins almost immediately afterward, with Lauren expressing her desire to marry Ned in her birthplace of Darwin, where her family and friends still live. The couple-to-be promptly fly to the Northern Territory where, upon arrival, they are informed that Lauren’s mother, Daffy (Ursula Yovich) has voluntarily left home without telling anybody where she’s heading, nor if she’ll return.
With Daffy’s husband Trevor (Huw Higginson) tearily, inconsolably listening to Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” on repeat, Ned and Lauren take a journey into the outback to search for Daffy, and inform her about their upcoming nuptials. As a consequence, the couple are unable to plan their ceremony, leaving the devastated Trevor in charge of wedding arrangements. Which can only go well.
It’s no exaggeration to say Top End Wedding is very much Miranda Tapsell’s movie. In addition to having a starring role as Lauren, the actress is credited as co-writer and an associate producer, suggesting she was integral to the film’s conception; helping to realise her vision is Wayne Blair, who previously cast and directed Tapsell in her breakthrough role, that being Cynthia in The Sapphires. Between them, they’ve created a picture that pleasingly evokes the spirit of their previous venture.
The vibe of Top End Wedding will be familiar to anybody who is familiar with Australian cinema, being the kind of feel-good, heart-warming crowd-pleaser that the Antipodes create frequently and proficiently. Sure, this approach may not redefine the conventions of the medium, nor satisfy those seeking a wholly original, unique picture, but it will appeal to the majority of viewers, who want nothing more than a safe, comfortable viewing experience, which is no bad thing.
With that said, Top End Wedding does challenge the audience’s thinking in other ways. Unlike most romantic-comedies, the story isn’t just about a love between two individuals, but a love of family, a love of friends and, most importantly, a love of Country – the spiritual bond that Indigenous Australians have with their birthplace. This is evident in Lauren’s desire to hold their wedding ceremony in Darwin, and in Daffy’s desire to reconnect with her home on the Tiwi Islands.
The affection for native culture does not end there. In addition to the recurring presence of Chicago, the soundtrack contains numerous songs from Indigenous artists, some of which are sung in their local language; certain English-speaking characters insert Aboriginal phrases and slang into their sentences; and, towards film’s end, lines of dialogue are spoken entirely in Tiwi language.
In this sense, Top End Wedding is reminiscent of another cross-cultural rom-com, Ali’s Wedding – it too used a conventional screenplay to promote a culture that most Australians are unfamiliar with. The film also plays the dual-role of advertising the Northern Territory, in doing so emulating the approach of yet another classic Aussie flick, Crocodile Dundee, showcasing locations that are foreign to the nation’s largely-urban population, and doing so beautifully.
Making proceedings even more pleasant is the cast, with some truly charming actors leaving an impact. This includes the ever-wonderful Tapsell, of course, but also Gwilym Lee as her loveable dag of a fiancé, Ned; Dalara Williams, Elaine Crombie and Sapphires co-star Shari Sebbens as Lauren’s spirited friends; and Julian Garner, who provides some of the film’s biggest laughs in a memorable cameo as the French helicopter pilot Pierre.
Top End Wedding is the clever utilisation of a familiar formula, taking the best elements of the films that came before it to craft a rather thoughtful romantic-comedy. More than anything, it’s a vehicle for the exceptionally talented Miranda Tapsell, who is truly deserving of stardom after her efforts here.