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Miranda Tapsell and her co-writer, Josh Tyler, showed how it’s done in last year’s Top End Wedding, which conjures the kind of missteps, misunderstandings and misadventures that typically delay a trip to the altar and sets them down in the Northern Territory.


Wayne Blair (The Sapphires) directs and Tapsell stars as an Indigenous woman about to marry the easy-going offspring of an establishment English family when she starts to have doubts. The catalyst is a crisis in her parents’ marriage.

Before she can contemplate living happily ever after with a man whose background is entirely different from her own, she has to sort out what she feels about her own beginnings and where exactly she belongs. You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a quest with an upbeat ending.

There have been a few subversive exceptions to this classic line. And Australia’s P.J. Hogan has made two of them.

Muriel’s Wedding’s self-deluding heroine comes to her senses only after she’s abandoned her fantasy of living happily ever after with Mr Wrong. My Best Friend’s Wedding, which Hogan made in in 1997 with Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett, is a blithe but moral lesson in the consolations to be had in behaving well when you fail to get what you want.

Both films celebrate the joys to be found in friendship rather than romance.

Muriel and the bridesmaids from hell in Muriel's Wedding.

Muriel and the bridesmaids from hell in Muriel’s Wedding.

Romance often plays a supporting role in these movies, with bride and groom relegated to the sidelines while the main action plays out among the guests. Robert Altman, who loved a crowd, packed 48 characters into A Wedding (1978), his tilt at the genre, and the groom’s affair with his new sister-in-law has to take its place alongside all the other sub-plots.

The film’s trailer, which bounces along in time to Going to the Chapel of Love, is set in a strictly ironic key. Most of the film’s relationships are analysed and found wanting and a multitude of hypocrisies are exposed.

But Altman steps lightly through it all, keeping things moving with long takes and overlapping dialogue — a favourite device — together with his sharp eye for the divisions forged by class and the waves that can engulf a family in the wake of sex with the wrong person. All these themes are staple ingredients of the wedding movie.

The groom’s affair with his new sister-in-law has to take its place alongside all the other sub-plots.

Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001) works on a similarly expansive scale. Set in Delhi with a palette composed of all the primary colours, together with their closest relatives, it’s Nair’s tribute to the exuberance of her Punjabi heritage.

Just for the hell of it, she planted a snobby Bengali among the wedding guests so he can sniff at the singing and dancing erupting all around him, regarding it as yet more proof of the Punjabis’ incurable addiction to showing off.

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It’s not subtle. It’s not meant to be. Yet it does have something to say – about love, loyalty and the importance of behaving honourably, no matter how high the price. It also displays a leisurely sense of proportion in regard to these big, tough questions. They will all be dealt with in good time. More urgent is the need to keep the good times rolling.


All up, it’s a hymn to excess in all its most positive forms, guaranteed to lift the spirits and lighten the heart.

The joys of singing and dancing are also the point of Stanley Donen’s Royal Wedding, made in 1951 during the heyday of the MGM musical. This is the film in which Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling, a feat made possible in those pre-CGI times by shooting the scene inside a revolving barrel.

Jane Powell is Astaire’s co-star, and although her footwork is pretty nimble, her main talent lay in her singing voice, which could be why a couple of the film’s set-pieces have Astaire dancing with the furniture. And they do suit the nonchalance of his style, which was always more about grace than passion.

The film is set in London with a plot inspired by real-life. Astaire’s first dance partner, his older sister, Adele, gave up show business in 1932 to marry an English peer. The eternally debonair Peter Lawford plays his screen alter ego.

And the film’s royal wedding, that of Elizabeth and Philip, is the catalyst which helps resolve their affair, along with the one Astaire is having with another Londoner, played by Winston Churchill’s daughter, Sarah.

Romance at last: Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral

Romance at last: Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral

But the movie which really encapsulates the English penchant for a lavish wedding is Mike Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. Its Richard Curtis script has all the familiar elements — a self-deprecating yet disingenuous hero with a sharp wit and an enduring fear of commitment, together with a cast of great character actors, all of whom are accorded at least one shining moment.

It’s glamorous and romantic and Newell expertly negotiates its typically British transitions between pathos and farce.

Now for something completely different. There’s not a hint of hyperbole in the title of Argentinian director Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales (2014). Produced by a team led by Pedro Almodovar, it’s made up of six short films, each more anarchic than the last.

Damian Szifron's <i>Wild Tales</i> : the cathartic pleasures of behaving very, very badly.

Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales : the cathartic pleasures of behaving very, very badly.

The finale is a wedding — a gloriously unbridled production about the cathartic pleasures of behaving very, very badly.

It’s a slapstick masterpiece. Every glance counts, every cutaway contains an essential clue to the bride’s dawning realisation that the groom has been sleeping with one of the guests and every move brings the party closer to chaos.

Exuberant partygoers are gradually transformed into mesmerised spectators, appalled by the fallout from the bride’s lust for revenge yet unwilling to leave for fear of missing the next ingeniously bruising twist in the tale.

By the time it’s over, the matrimonial state has very little going for it. If you’re planning a wedding once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased, it might be best to watch this one first and use the other wedding movies as restorative antidotes aimed at renewing your optimism. You’ll certainly be entertained.

Sandra Hall is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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