Writer Osamah Sami draws on his real-life misadventures in Ali's Wedding, a film that's been billed as Australia's first widely released Muslim rom-com. It's an intriguing hook, but one that belies just how good the end product really is. Yes, it's about a Muslim-Australian protagonist, and that's absolutely worth highlighting. It's also warm, smart, hilarious, and one of the most enjoyable movies to come out of Melbourne in years.
Set in the northern suburbs and in part at the University of Melbourne, the dings of the Sydney Road tram are a regular feature on the soundtrack, as Sami and director Jeffrey Walker craft a confident feature that knows how to combine comedy with heart, without having to resort to cheap or lazy laughs.
Ali's Wedding tells the story of Ali (Sami), a uni student attempting to get into medicine in order to make his father, the local Muslim cleric, proud. The only problem? He's not any good. So when he flunks the entrance exam he decides to pretend that he didn't – a not-so-white lie that ends up resulting in a chain of "oh no" events for him, his family and his mosque. Along the way he does manage to stumble across something real though: love, in the form of actual medical student Diane (Helene Sawires). But love is not what others have in mind for Ali, with his parents planning to marry him to the daughter of another family from the mosque
Sami is well supported by the rest of the cast, including Don Hany as his dad bringing the perfect mix of fatherly authority and dagginess. Sawires, meanwhile, is fantastic as Diane, who proves far more than just a love interest. She's a fully formed character; a cool, kick ass gal full of exasperation and self-assurance, who isn't afraid to tell Ali when he's being an idiot.
Pleasingly, the film refrains from dipping into farce. Instead, Sami and company provide an entertaining but still insightful look at the stereotyping of Muslim people – seen most blatantly in a sequence in which the mosque's theatre group attempts to perform their play about the life and death of Saddam Hussein in the United States. The movie also serves as a feel-good representation of modern multiculturalism, with scenes jumping from traditional tea ceremonies to eating icy poles and watching AFL.
That Ali's Wedding manages to combine all of these elements joyfully, without ever becoming saccharine, helps turn a true tale into a bloody good film. Osamah Sami may have never gotten that medical degree, but he sure knows how to tell a story.