Top End Wedding
This bright, breezy Aussie rom-com travels across the Northern Territory, and features a standout performance from star and co-writer Miranda Tapsell.
If Top End Wedding turns Miranda Tapsell into a huge movie star, then the Australian romantic comedy will have done its job. A shining light on local screens since first appearing in The Sapphires in 2012, she's not only the lead in this likeable film, but a co-writer with Joshua Tyler — and she's glowing across both roles. In fact, Tapsell is one of the key elements keeping the amiable movie bubbling, even when it favours well-worn rom-com cliches and tropes. Earlier this year, she was fierce and frank with Nakkiah Lui in their one-episode takeover of Get Krack!n. Now, she's a delight as an overworked Adelaide lawyer who's not only heading home to Darwin to get hitched, but trying to find her runaway mother before the ceremony.
It's a familiar setup, in general terms: nuptials beckon, and so does both personal and professional chaos. Lauren (Tapsell) has been at her demanding boss' (Kerry Fox) beck and call for years, striving to secure a promotion. Then her boyfriend Ned (Gwilym Lee) asks for her hand in marriage on the same day that her work wish comes true. Complicating factors include Ned's newly unemployed status, although he doesn't tell Lauren, and the fact that she's only been given ten days to throw the wedding and return to the grind. Landing in the Northern Territory only adds to the couple's woes, especially with Lauren's mum Daffy (Ursula Yovich) gone AWOL, and her dad Trevor (Huw Higginson) spending his time bawling and listening to love ballads in a cupboard.
Although there's no shortage of pals (Shari Sebbens, Elaine Crombie and Dalara Williams) on hand to help with the lightning-fast preparations, Lauren won't tie the knot without her mother present. Tracking Daffy down is a task that's easier said than done, sending Top End Wedding's lovebirds on a tour of the NT. While Australian cinema is guilty of using the country's landscape as an additional character to the point of overkill, director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires) and cinematographer Eric Murray Lui (TV's Rosehaven and Black Comedy) make vibrant use of their locations — indeed, their film is as much of a love letter to the region as it is to its leading lady. Of course, one influences the other. Tapsell is a local, and whether wandering through Kakadu National Park or journeying over to the Tiwi Islands, the movie always feels authentic.
Crucially, Top End Wedding also overflows with warmth, which assists the film's template-like narrative considerably. It's glaringly easy to see where the story is heading, and more than a few developments strain the bounds of logic. But two details stand out amongst the hen's night shenanigans, anarchic road trips, convenient miscommunications and multiple layers of family mess. Firstly, there's a difference between lazily adhering to genre conventions and deploying them affectionately, with Tapsell and Tyler's script largely falling into the second category. Secondly, the power and tenderness that emanates from the movie's Tiwi Islands-set third act can't be underestimated. A big-screen sight that's even more rare than an Indigenous Aussie rom-com, the film gives the area a huge hug — embracing and including the local community, highlighting the importance of place to Australia's first peoples and culture, and showcasing this underseen part of the country.
The feel-good vibe extends to the movie's performances, with Blair's cast all bouncing along. Like the other rom-com reaching cinemas this week, Long Shot, Top End Wedding also owes a debt to the chemistry between its main couple. When contrivance creeps in (such as detouring for a romantic break when it's already been established that everyone is racing against the clock), Tapsell and Lee surge through. Lee has been having just as a great a year as Tapsell, thanks to his bewigged role as Brian May in multiple Oscar-winner Bohemian Rhapsody, and the two actors make an engaging pair. In Top End Wedding, they help charisma, energy and a fond atmosphere mostly overcome familiarity. When the film finds its broad, joyous sweet spot, especially in its back half, it works a charm.