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online e-dition sept 5


risk-free rom-com

katerina sakkas: amanda jane's the wedding party


The Wedding Party The Wedding Party
ROMANTIC COMEDIES MUST CLEAVE TO CERTAIN BASIC PRINCIPLES. BOY (USUALLY) MEETS GIRL. BOY AND GIRL TAKE A WHILE TO WORK OUT THEY BELONG TOGETHER. AFTER OVERCOMING VARIOUS ENTERTAINING OBSTACLES, THEY UNITE. WITH THE HAPPY ENDING A GIVEN, IT'S WHAT HAPPENS IN THE LEAD-UP TO REUNION THAT'S CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT. THIS GENRE IS HUGELY DEPENDENT UPON THE CHARACTERISATION OF ITS LEADS: THEY ARE, AFTER ALL, THE REASON WE KEEP WATCHING AND (PARADOXICALLY, GIVEN THE OUTCOME IS CLEAR) HOPING.

Snagging awards at a bundle of American film festivals, and voted most popular Australian film at the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival, Amanda Jane's debut feature The Wedding Party applies the rom-com template to middle Australia. The film divides its attention between the heterosexual relationships in three generations of one family, with the focus on 30-ish son Steve (Josh Lawson).

Hitherto something of a no-hoper, Steve is enduring a period of separation instigated by girlfriend Jacqui (Kestie Morassi) as a warning to shape up. In order to pay back the home loan on the house he and Jacqui are attempting to buy, he enters into a covert agreement with an attractive young Russian woman, Anna (Isabel Lucas). She will pay him $25,000 in return for a marriage of convenience and the resultant Australian citizenship. The implausibility of this scenario is one of The Wedding Party's major stumbling blocks. Wealthy and trained as a nurse, Anna could surely apply for citizenship on her own merits. Perhaps there are reasons she can't, but they aren't elaborated, leaving us to compare Anna's situation with the much more common arranged marriage route taken by Eastern European women looking for a better life.

The Wedding Party The Wedding Party
Orbiting this unlikely state of affairs are Steve's relatives, including father Roger (Steve Bisley)—the obligatory older Ocker—sister Lisa (Nadine Garner), brother Colin (Geoff Paine) and their respective partners. With its many liaisons, The Wedding Party takes its cue from Richard Curtis' rom-com on steroids Love Actually, and suffers in a similar way from trying to keep too many balls in the air. Flitting from relationship to relationship, Jane's film simply doesn't allow enough time to develop its primary couple. Steve is arguably the film's least interesting character, remaining essentially unchanged as events unfold. He's always loved Jacqui, and this doesn't change; he merely makes a much bigger and riskier decision than previously, which somehow distracts Jacqui at film's end from seeing that he's just as hopeless as before. It might have helped had we seen how he lived with Jacqui before she kicked him out.

More dramatically promising are the relationships Steve's brother and sister are involved in, the former dabbling in S&M-tinged infidelity, the latter suffering from painful sexual intercourse (something that's parlayed rather flippantly into comedy). These grittier situations are not satisfactorily resolved, however: wrapped up with a trite narration provided by Steve's teenage niece ("the most interesting times of life are when things don't make much sense at all," she chirps with faux profundity), they feel trivialised, all the hard work put into them by the actors gone to waste. They also sit rather awkwardly within the rom-com conventions followed in the primary plot (though it must be said Richard Curtis' Four Weddings and a Funeral managed to convey pathos and tragedy without relinquishing its credentials as a romantic comedy).

The Wedding Party The Wedding Party
It's worth comparing The Wedding Party to Russian Doll (dir. Stavros Kazantzidis, 2001), an Australian romantic comedy that revolves around a similar deception and marriage of convenience, minus the Russian bride's affluence. Russian Doll, however, differs from Jane's film in allowing its leading couple time to evolve in relation to each other; to become fully formed characters with some depth beneath their comedic personality quirks. It was perhaps a mistake for The Wedding Party to separate its romantic leads for almost the entire film.

What The Wedding Party offers is a comedy of unthreatening familiarity. Despite good performances, particularly from Garner and Essie Davis as Colin's wronged wife, its characters are on the whole amiable but not distinctive. They possess no wit. You get the impression the filmmakers, while aiming for a raucously quirky veneer, don't want to alienate their audience by introducing anything too original, or, dare one say it, intelligent. Perhaps this is over-harsh. The romantic comedy is admittedly a light genre with no onus to be deep and meaningful, but more consideration of narrative and character might have elevated The Wedding Party from a string of gags to something that, in the manner of superior romantic comedy, lingers fondly in the memory.


The Wedding Party, director Amanda Jane, writers Amanda Jane, Christine Bartlett, cinematography Katie Milwright, editors Amanda Jane, Kylie Robertson, sound designer Craig Conway, Screen Australia and Brave Films, 2010; www.theweddingpartyfilm.com

RealTime issue #110 Aug-Sept 2012 pg. web

© Katerina Sakkas; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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