Top End Wedding

Some critic once said: no movie with ‘wedding’ in the title ever flops.  Very sage.  I was reminded of it after seeing Top End Wedding.    

The wedding of this title involves young Adelaide lawyer Lauren, played by Miranda Tapsell, and her fella Ned, played by the bloke who played Brian May in Bohemian Rhapsody – Gwilym Lee.  I almost didn’t recognise him without that nimbus of grey hair.   

It’s a romantic comedy that follows the conventional format:  young lovers must overcome obstacles to get to the happy day.  But it’s the cultural setting that adds interest:  the movie opens with an aboriginal running through tropical bushland, getting into a tinnie and zooming off across the water.  This turns out to be Lauren’s mother, who has fled her Tiwi Islands home on her wedding day, for reasons not explained.  All we know is that she later meets and marries Trevor, Lauren’s father, who’s white, but in a case of unfortunate timing that gives the movie its main plot, she walks out on Trevor and goes missing just about the time Lauren manages to extract 10 days leave from her tough boss (played by Kerry Fox) so she can go back to Darwin and get married there.  Plans have been made, girlfriends have flown in from interstate, there’s no question of cancelling the wedding, so she’s just got to go and find Mum. 

There follows a kind of road movie which enables the showing off of some glorious Top End scenery and allows for encounters with colourful local types including a helicopter tour pilot who’s as ocker as Mick Dundee but bungs on a thick French accent because it lures the ladies.  It also allows time for requisite obstacles to come in the lovers’ way – car breakdowns, red herrings, arguments – before, as per the formula, the happy ending. 

Miranda Tapsell is a real talent, both as actor and co-writer of the script.  Unlike her recent rant on Get Krackin, Top End Wedding isn’t weighed down with racial politics.  Indeed, the storyline has Lauren’s mother jilting a tribal indigenous man to marry a white urban one, although it doesn’t make heavy weather of this.  And I suspect grievance isn’t good box office. 

There are implausibilities of timing and characterization.  You can’t be too pedantic about such things in a romcom, but I thought Kerry Fox’s boss lady role was inconsistent and slapdash.  

I loved the scenes set on the Tiwi Islands.  I never went there during my years in the Territory (1976 – 1990) because back then tourism wasn’t encouraged although you could go on footy grand final day.  Now there are regular ferry trips and tours which take care of the needed permit. 

I’d love to go and have a look now.  The Tiwi Islands population is around 2500, mostly indigenous.  The islands – Bathurst and Melville – seem to have escaped some of the worst of the social problems that beset other Territory indigenous communities.  The death rate used to be high, mainly among women and infants, but is gradually decreasing thanks to improved health services.

The crime rate is low.  Low enough not to even rate a spot on the NT Police website, unlike Nhulunbuy, Katherine, Elcho Island and Alice Springs – all of which I visited frequently when I was a legal aid lawyer in the 70s and 80s and all of which had horrendous levels of substance abuse, violence and family breakdown.

The comparative success of the Tiwi Islands communities has a lot to do with cultural preservation and community-chosen strict alcohol controls, but also – credit where it’s due – to catholic missionaries who taught the people textile craft skills and Aussie Rules.  They’re football mad! 

The ‘Top End’ thing is a bit of a local in-joke, based on the prevalence of this unimaginative title for umpteen local businesses:  Top End Meats, Top End Carpets, Top End Tiles, Top End Carwash….

When I lived there some girlfriends opened a café, joking they would call it Top End Food.  They didn’t, of course.  They called it something much more imaginative:  NT Café.  (I jest.)