If you’re expecting a typical rom-com, you’re going to be disappointed because “Top End Wedding” is so much more than that. Sure, it’s a love story between two young people, Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) as they plan a wedding, but more so, this is a love story of family and heritage. In between uproarious laughter you’ll be shedding tears of joy as you embark upon this journey with Lauren in search of her mother who has gone AWOL. It’s a treasure hunt that ultimately delivers more of life’s riches than you could have ever dreamed.
Lauren and Ned are two young professionals until Ned decides being a lawyer just isn’t his calling. Lauren is in a high-powered profession with a boss, Hampton(Kerry Fox) aka Cruella Daville, and is at work’s beck and call. Ned works up the gumption to propose, but “forgets” to add in the fact that he is now unemployed. Thinking long engagements are silly, Lauren is graced with 10 days of unpaid vacation to get it all wrapped up. Northern Australia is calling her home and this is where she wants the wedding to take place, but as she and Ned arrive home, Dad (Huw Higginson) is in a nearly catatonic state. Mom has run away because even her own daughter won’t answer her calls. (There’s a guilt trip for all you daughters reading!) Lauren and Ned follow the clues that Mom as left behind and they begin to discover much more than just why Mom left home.
“Top End Wedding” starts off as you would expect–light, fluffy, and oftentimes silly. Lauren’s boss Hampton creates much of the humor as the uptight controlling woman expecting perfection from Lauren. Lauren, however, isn’t perfect as we see in the first scene, breaking her heel and eating a powdered sugar pastry with a black suit on just before one of the most important meetings of her young professional career. Many of the characters are over the top, but this just adds not only to the appeal, but also to the balance of the story. There are tragedies within many of the characters’ background, reeling us back into a reality that connects us with them. And just as quickly as we find that connection, we are let loose on funny bits such as a grieving man who misses his wife and hides in the pantry as he listens to a Chicago song repeatedly. (You’ll never listen to “If You Leave Me Now” the same way again!) As our emotions ride this roller coaster, the story also finds a way to weave into it a through line of the importance of family and our ancestry. Lauren and Ned, of course, find quite a few literal and figurative bumps in the road as they track down dear old mom, but as Lauren gets into close proximity, this is where the heart and soul are splayed open, inviting you to relish in the wonder of love and forgiveness.
The film could be a travel journal as Lauren explores the “Top End” of Australia. It’s beautiful in its own way and the camera captures the land, the vistas, and the people. As we get to the Tiwi Islands, Lauren’s family is comprised of many of the aboriginal people here. We see their culture, their ceremonies, their artistry. It’s an homage to ancestry and the importance of maintaining language and traditions. Co-writers Tapsell and Joshua Tyler develop a heart-felt and stunning story of true love while remembering the humor that is an integral part of life. Tapsell has both a comedic delivery as her character, but there’s also a physical one. She allows her character to develop, turning inwardly to discover the layers beneath and then growing emotionally. It all happens seemingly naturally, not at the drop of a hat and while there are plenty of stereotypical rom-com scenes, there are just as many non-traditional ones that make this a leader in the genre.
Tapsell and Lee have the chemistry it takes on screen to make us believe they are a couple who know each other from every angle and still love one another. They’re not perfect which creates a lot of the humor, but it’s all relatable humor. And when we can laugh at ourselves as we watch this, it makes it all the better. Tapsell and Lee have a rhythm which invites the other characters to enter their orbit and add their own flare. Higginson as Trevor (Dad) is a sad sack, but he’s also hilarious in his sadness. The disdain he has for his future son-in-law is evident immediately, but again, there is humor in this. Sometimes Higginson is able to speak paragraphs with just a single look! With a strong supporting cast, Tapsell and Lee have the perfect groundwork beneath their feet to truly soar. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, what will remain in my heart and my memory is the beauty of the people of the Tiwi Islands. I can’t remember a film where I was so emotionally impacted that I was speechless and happily so!
3 1/2 Stars