Australian rom-coms are not numerous, so the arrival of a new one is worthy of note. TOP END WEDDING is the story of Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) a couple who live in Adelaide. Lauren is a successful lawyer working for a non-specified big business. Her time is taken up working on big deals and trying to meet the demands of her strict boss Hampton (Kerry Fox). Ned is a rather less successful lawyer bumbling through minor cases. When he proposes to Lauren, her pressurised schedule allows them only ten days to get married. There is one particular challenge that presents itself. Lauren’s mother Daphne/Daffy (Ursula Yovich) has exited her 40-year marriage and no-one knows where she has gone. And there is no way that Lauren is going to get married if her mother is not there at the wedding.
They head for the Territory, specifically Lauren’s home town of Darwin. When they get there they find Lauren’s father Trevor (Huw Higginson) is not dealing well with his wife’s departure. It’s been five years since Lauren saw her parents or visited home, so she now has to organise her wedding, have a hens’ party with her girlfriends (played by Shari Sebbens, Dalara Williams and Elaine Crombie) and go on a road trip to locate Daffy.
TOP END WEDDING is co-written by its star Miranda Tapsell and Joshua Tyler. It is directed by Wayne Blair who also directed Tapsell in THE SAPPHIRES (2012). They have created a film that works at a number of levels; as a straightforward wedding rom-com and it gets laughs from the various family conflicts and generational misunderstandings. It also operates as a deftly written cross-cultural story. It begins back in time with Daffy leaving her home in the Tiwi islands and running away to Darwin. This break from family, language and country affects her life and eventually Lauren’s. Ned is English and he has never met Lauren’s parents or been to Top End. When she suggests he watch football with her father, Ned is excited by the thought that she means soccer. “We’re in the NT, d*ckhead,” she says very bluntly. And we are indeed in the NT. As they search for Daffy they travel through beautifully shot, spectacular locations like Kakadu and Katherine Gorge.
In different ways, Lauren and Ned have to discover how they fit together as they learn more about each other. The themes of community, home and family are particularly brought forward in the second-half. As much as TOP END WEDDING is a rom-com, it is also a story about mothers and daughters.
The film covers a lot of ground as it zips through slapstick, one-liners and heartfelt moments. The soundtrack uses a wide selection of music, sometimes to underline a scene and sometimes to provide the punch-line to a gag. There has been some mention about clumsy writing from some quarters, but what I see is a clever blending of the specificity of Indigenous story strands with the universality of a love story.
Tapsell’s performance is excellent and her chemistry with Lee is believable. This is a movie that aims for the funny bone and the heart and succeeds in hitting both targets; a crowd pleasing Indigenous Australian film that deserves to travel far and wide.