White Wedding (The Little Film Company/Dada Films, PG-13)

You will have to go Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen one better and believe any number of impossible things before the final credits.

The unrelenting good cheer of White Wedding, director Jann Turner’s first film, goes a long way towards overcoming the film’s stereotypical characters and been-there, done-that situations. The South African setting, beautifully presented in Willie Nel’s cinematography, and the catchy soundtrack by Joel Assaizky also weigh in the film’s favor, but in order to stick with the film long enough to enjoy them you’ll need a high tolerance for the shopworn conventions of two familiar film genres: the impending wedding disaster and the road trip.
All-around good guy Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi) and the beautiful but high-strung Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana) are to be married in a few days, but he’s in Johannesburg while she’s in Cape Town. His plan is to take the bus to Durban to meet up with his best man Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo) for a bachelor party before the two of them drive to Cape Town. Meanwhile, two young British women are doing a South African road trip of their own.
Back in Cape Town Ayanda is finalizing wedding preparations with the most stereotypical wedding planner (Emile Minnie) since Martin Short’s Franck in Father of the Bride and trading expository paragraphs with her traditionally-figured mother (Ayanda and her sister are as skinny as rails) and anyone else within earshot about township wedding customs. She’s also somewhat discombobulated by the arrival of an ex-boyfriend (Mbuelo Grootboom), whose appearance and attitude scream “hustler.” She is beginning to have doubts about Elvis’s succession of excuses regarding his delayed arrival.
White Wedding was South Africa’s entry for the foreign language Oscar in 2010, so whoever makes such decisions clearly feels it’s more than a glorified sitcom on wheels. Many situations seem contrived to point out different aspects of racial and social relations in contemporary South Africa, and I have to assume they resonate more with people from that country than they do with one looking in from the outside. However, the didactic and unbelievable nature of many of the conversations and events, sometimes emphasized by cross-cutting, strains the patience of even the most generous viewer.
Racism is the film’s central preoccupation and while that is certainly a meaningful subject, given the history of South Africa, like many weighty issues it would be better treated with subtlety and at least a nod toward believability. An early scene involving the whitest white person you’ve ever seen (Jessica Taylor) flirts with the topic and the sometimes fine line between misunderstanding and deliberate insult while requiring you to believe that a high-end bridal shop would employ someone without the least clue of how to deal tactfully with the public. The road trip includes a visit to a bar full of Afrikaners in rugby shirts who clearly wish Mandela had never been freed from prison (the men’s room carries the sign “white males/blanke mans”). But they’re balanced by one good Afrikaner who hits it off with Elvis, although his English wife turns out to be an out-an-out racist. And on and on—you’ll have to be extremely tolerant to being battered with the club of obviousness to make it to the end of this film. You will also have to go Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen one better and believe any number of impossible things before the final credits.
And yet there are good things to be found within White Wedding. Nkosi and Seiphemo (who co-wrote the screenplay with Turner) are charming performers, as are Msutwana and Whittaker. You get a very nice travelogue for your troubles and the feel-good obviousness of the film means it may register with audience members who normally avoid anything with subtitles. | Sarah Boslaugh

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