TOP END WEDDING: A LOVABLE AUSSIE ROMCOM

It’s not often I get to review a movie where one of my longest and closest friends, who was born on the same day as myself, is an Executive Producer of said film. But TOP END WEDDING is about doing things a little differently and I am incredibly proud of my brother-from-another-mother, Glen Condie, for being involved in such a wonderful Aussie romcom. I am also glad it is now finally released so we can have him back from his promotional travels and he can stop talking about it and we can just bloody watch the thing haha.

TOP END WEDDING releases today in Australia, it is rated M and runs for 113mins. It is also one of the last films to be released from eOne ANZ and was released in partnership with eOne’s new owners Universal Pictures Australia. I will miss thee eOne – love your work, your films and your people.

Top End Wedding Miranda Tapsell image
Miranda Tapsell

BY JASON KING

TOP END WEDDING SYNOPSIS:

After successful lawyer Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) gets a promotion from slave-driving boss Hampton (Kerry Fox), her boyfriend Ned (Gwilym Lee) proposes marriage. She accepts, but Hampton is only willing to give Lauren ten days off…..starting now! So, to make her childhood dream come true, Lauren races Ned off to the Northern Territory (AKA the top end of Australia) for a traditional Aboriginal wedding ceremony.

Upon arrival, she discovers her mother, a runaway bride who ran away from her parents and her first planned wedding in her youth, has disappeared, or to some extent “gone walkabout.” That leaves Lauren and Ned to find mum, while Lauren’s abandoned dad (Huw Higginson) sits around crying to Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” with the prospect of having to plan an entire wedding.

A ROMCOM THAT BLENDS THE ROM WITH THE COM AND THE IMPORTANCE OF INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIA WITHOUT BEING POLITICAL:

The synopsis could be a generic romcom set in Australia, it embraces all the standard tropes, there is even a love proclamation in an airport and Gwilym definitely exudes a somewhat Hugh Grantishness (this could just be the lack of hardcore masculinity and his accent) but TOP END WEDDING is quite a bit more. Not an insult Gwilym – you’re still hot AF!!

Firstly the lead, Miranda Tapsell, is an Indigenous Australian but also a lawyer, not an elder, not a spiritual mystic and not a criminal, a lawyer! Kiss that cliche in the nuts, thanks very much. It’s a modern Australia now and Miranda highlights it as such. She is completely modernised with her mother leaving the traditional future set before her and instead does Janet Jackson dance moves and is the chief breadwinner in the relationship.

Top End Wedding Kerry Fox and Huw Higginson image
Kerry Fox and Huw Higginson

Director Wayne Blair, of THE SAPPHIRES fame, delivers a happy feel good film with some awesome humour and wonderful themes that make TOP END WEDDING a film I would describe as light-hearted poignancy. This is a film about modern Australia. We are the land we live on and over time us invaders and the indigenous locals have formed a multicultural land that is the envy of the lot of the world (I won’t mention politics and the idiots trying to ruin a good thing).

“Hold on to your munchies, ’cause it’s about to get crunchy.”

Wayne highlights the beauty of the Northern Territory (NT Tourism supports the movie) with some splendid cinematography from Eric Murray Lui (ROSEHAVEN, BLACK COMEDY). One of my minor gripes of the film was that it could have shown off more of the NT a la CROCODILE DUNDEE – the EP assures me it actually has more B-Roll styled scenery in it than that mega successful DUNDEE film. The Aussie outback and Tiwi locations of the film are as much a character as the paid actors, mostly it is millions of year old beauty for us to see and at times it is comedy with the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel being in the shape of an actual crocodile.

Themes embrace multiculturalism, equality (some great colourful characters. The Uncle will win your heart), ancestry, traditions and a sense of cultural belonging. You will notice most scenes of the film are all multicultural, and the two lead married couples are both of mixed race – this is ‘STRAYA!! You may also notice but when they land in Tiwi all the locals speak the traditional language with subtitles and for the life of me I cannot remember the last time I saw an Aboriginal movie with them speaking their own native language. Another wonderful detail I noticed – travelling shots across the country are represented through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander map of Indigenous Australia. Huge bravo to this representation!!

IT’S NOT ALL PEACHES AND CREAM HOWEVER:

This was always going to be the hardest part of the review, giving criticism to one of your best mates haha. Suck it up Princess!!

First of all it needed a crocodile scene!! An actual crocodile, not the sign and more than the hotel. Most romcom tropes were embraced in TOP END WEDDING, don’t hold back, go all the way in. There could have also been a reference to CROCODILE DUNDEE with Ned finding a half eaten water container floating nearby, something more than the sign. I also found the ending introduction of a boat to get to Tiwi a little out of place. This would have been the most ideal time to re-introduce the faux Frenchie helicopter for a story arc completion. The boat had a name, this indicated we should have known about it sooner, I never saw it in any background shots and no mention of it sooner.

And the one part of the movie that was unnecessary and failed for me was the creation of conflict between Lauren and Ned in the middle of the film. It felt more like a genre requirement and jarred both pacing and plot for me. There was already so much going on in the film that this just tipped over the edge. But all the stuff over the edge builds and builds a weaker first half of the film until they land on Tiwi – from then the film is more profound, meaningful and easier to embrace.

Top End Wedding Miranda Tapsell image
Miranda Tapsell

WHAT A CAST!!

One of the shining beacons of TOP END WEDDING is the casting. Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee are literally perfect together with chemistry on and off screen that warms the heart. I attended the Sydney premiere and they both gave introductions to the film with Wayne Blair and their two personalities just work together. Miranda is a swarm of bees in a plastic Coke bottle, so much happy energy that I imagine never settles and Gwilym is the cool charming Englishman – together they are in balance and both have a sparkle in the eye. Both their performances are wonderful but Ned’s character is a little more generic so Miranda’s Lauren shines brighter on the screen.

But the leads don’t steal the show – they fit in perfectly with the supporting cast of Kerry Fox, Huw Higginson and Ursula Yovich. Fox’s Hampton is an Aussie styled Miranda from THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA but she is true oddball softy at heart. Most scenes had me laughing at her. Same for Higginson, the most comedic actor in the film that had me regularly in stitches, oddly nearly using the same joke multiple times – cue Chicago music. And Ursula Yovich gives the most powerful performance with a relatively small end scene tying up her arc that melts your heart with so much emotion. I never expected a scene to be so powerful in a romcom but Yovich nails it with little dialogue and a lot of heart.

Top End Wedding Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee image
Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee

IN CONCLUSION:

RomComs are on the rise again with huge successes from films such as LOVE, SIMON and CRAZY RICH ASIANS. TOP END WEDDING is quite similar in tone to CRAZY RICH ASIANS it could have been named CRAZY MIDDLE CLASS AUSTRALIANS and rode some of that crossover success but the film stands on its own and does a bloody good job of it. Well done Condors, you did good!!

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.