Two Australian movies set in the tropical far north hit our screens this week. A+ for effort and intent, C- for the results
Top End Wedding
A few critics have broken ranks, but only the brave few. Virginia Trioli was scathing on ABC News Breakfast about Wayne Blair’s Top End Wedding saying she wanted to laugh but couldn’t. The Tele’s Leigh Paatsch called its script “a real stinker” and managed to give it only 1 and a half stars. But many more have simply gushed over-the-top praise for the feel-good indigenous comedy, often spluttering “but its so much more than just a rom-com” and there’s “so much in it!” but without explaining what that so much actually is…
Presumably co-writer and star Miranda Tapsell knows. She was given a rapturous rock-star welcome at the movie’s Sydney premiere, so clearly understands a thing or two about what people like. Speaking on ABC RN’s Screen Show she agreed with host Jason di Rosso that she was out to “subvert stereotypes” and “challenge expectations about what black women could be.” However when we first meet her own character Lauren – supposedly a highly proficient and ambitious big city lawyer, she’s is in the process of having one of those “wacky” sit-com moments with the office photocopier. Then she gets powdered milk all over her nice suit just before a client meeting and snaps a heel – way too high for the office anyway. What a ditz… Later, it’s insultingly suggested her mum (Ursula Yovich) has gone off on a wild drunken sex-romp instead of sticking around for her only daughter’s wedding. So much for stereotypes! Well, hubby-to-be Ned (Gwilym Lee) is a bit of a dropkick too, but fortunately he’s white.
Most of the characters are dills, and some of their jokes work – in a Crocodile Dundee/My Big Fat Greek Wedding sort of way. That’s the tone of the humour and those cliched gags are there, because, well, all the characters in the silly Hollywood rom-coms Tapsell says she admires have to act up, and a few have to be as mad as cut snakes. Wacky stuff has to happen and keep on happening, and oh boy it does… Later, both Lauren and her mum are shown to be sensible well-rounded people with real-life concerns that real people might even identify with, but for more that the first half of Top End Wedding, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching something starring Rebel Wilson.
It does get better. In the last act on Tiwi Island everything switches gear, and finally you get to see why NT Tourism put so much faith (and money) into the project. The stunning location (Lauren’s mum’s real home, and where she was really heading), the island’s indigenous inhabitants and their genuine warmth become the movie’s real stars. The cliches don’t entirely vanish – there’s that compulsory will-they/won’t-they scene at the airport to sit through, but it does what all good wedding movies should do – and makes you cry. For that at least, and because it tries so damn hard to please, everyone works so hard and it is so incredibly wholesome (what did it do to get that M rating?), it just has to score a few extra stars. From May 2 on everywhere. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Broadway, Burwood, Rhodes and Dendy Newtown ★★★
Premiering at last year’s Melbourne Film Festival, writer-director Ben Hackworth’s languid arty pot-boiler gives Rhada Mitchell easily the best role she’s had in years. Celeste is a gorgeous feast for the eyeballs too, showcasing its Cairns hinterland locations and dense rainforest settings to stunning effect. A pity its also a tortuously contrived soapie, but that’s at least partially made up for by its resplendent visuals, intriguing situations and moody, ambiguous atmospherics.
In the titular role Mitchell stars as an reclusive and retired opera star, now holed up in the crumbling but impossibly picturesque estate deep in the forest she once shared with her dead husband. And she’s a bit of a mess. Though supposedly being primed for a big comeback performance by her controlling manager and perhaps live-in lover Grace (Nadine Garner), she wastes no time practicing or doing any singing. Instead she spends her days in a haze of boozy self-medication, mooning about something traumatic from the past – something which involves her absent stepson, Jack (Thomas Cocquerel) and the apparent premature death of her husband.
Jack of course turns up after the sort of unlikely events which make sense in soap operas – pursued by a couple of thugs he owes money to. He’s troubled lad it seems, but hunky too, and manages to attract the amorous attentions of a local lass (Odessa Young in a thankless role) merely by taking his shirt off in her op shop. He arrives in a ute complete with a set of tools too so Grace (not at all happy to see him) gives him a job constructing Celeste’s comeback set on location in the jungle estate. Tensions and recriminations then simmer in the fecund, humid atmosphere.
Since it’s hot, Jack has to take his shirt off a lot. In fact he works barefoot on site – no one worries about workplace health and safety issues up in Australia’s far north, apparently. Actually the heat and dripping humidity means everyone wafts lazily about wearing very little, with the lovely cool rainforest pools providing natural excuses to take everything off. Since the credits list someone as a “crocodile consultant,” personally I’d have kept a pair of steel-capped work boots on. At least… M at Randwick Ritz only. ★★★1/2
Also opening this week
Long Shot (not previewed) sounds like fun for political junkies, provided you can suspend belief enough to see Charlize Theron as a presidential candidate and perennial stoner Seth Rogen as her love-interest. Then there’s the mad-cap feel-good refugee comedy The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir – which by all reports is even more of a stretch. From the streets of India, our hero arrives in Europe via hot air balloon and beds down for the night in an Ikea showroom.
Reviews – Russell Edwards