'White Wedding'

Murphy's Law gets a thorough comic workout in South African lenser Jann Turner's genial road movie.

Murphy’s Law gets a thorough comic workout in South African lenser Jann Turner’s genial road movie and surprise domestic boffo hit, “White Wedding,” in which a chubby, sweet-natured bridegroom encounters an improbable pileup of misadventures while traveling from Johannesburg to Cape Town for his wedding. A highly engaging pic with a post-apartheid edge (certain scenes play like a farcical “Invictus”), “Wedding” could ride its selection as South Africa’s Oscar entry into cable play in English-speaking countries.

Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi) heads across South Africa, his route so seemingly straight-ahead that the filmmakers lay it out on an animated map: by bus to Durban to pick up best man Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo), then by car to Cape Town.

But this simple itinerary gets seriously derailed, first by a drunken bachelor party and then by vehicular mayhem wreaked by Tumi’s enraged ex, while “shortcuts” result in unplanned passengers like a tagalong mountain goat and a footloose English doctor, Rose (Jodie Whittaker).

Meanwhile, back in Cape Town, bride Ayanda (Zandie Msutwana), caught between European and African traditions, is wrestling with problems of her own, including a peevish gay wedding planner; an upscale restaurant with too limited a capacity; a mother (Sylvia Mngxekeza) stubbornly set on a sprawling township shindig; and Tony (Mbulelo Grootboom), an old flame in a flashy new car. Poor cell-phone communication between bride and groom doesn’t help matters.

Sick with jealousy over what he misinterprets as Ayanda’s renewed interest in Tony, Elvis bellies up to a bar and shares his complaints about the opposite sex — and his lifelong love of soccer — with the apartheid flag-draped locals, leaving Tumi and Rose to question the wisdom of two black men and one white woman strolling into a bar full of redneck Afrikaners. But Elvis’ drunken openness and inability to perceive any problem prove so infectious that he soon has a dedicated band of Boer bodyguards bent on getting him to the church on time.

Pic was written and co-produced by Nkosi and Seiphemo; its laid-back humor and easygoing conversation flow effortlessly, with seasoned TV helmer Turner making the most of her first foray into theatrical features.

Aiming for universal appeal, the film balances the bigotry and classism of South Africa’s history with a multicultural cast of characters who relate to each other naturally, without a trace of self-consciousness.

Accomplished tech credits belie the pic’s modest budget.

White Wedding

South Africa

Production

A Stepping Stone Pictures production. (International sales: The Little Film Co., Los Angeles.) Produced by Kenneth Nkosi, Rapulana Seiphemo, Jann Turner. Executive producer, Ken Follett. Directed by Jann Turner. Screenplay, Kenneth Nkosi, Rapulana Seiphemo, Turner.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Willie Nel; editor, Tanja Hagen; music, Joel Assiazky; art director, Martha Sibanyoni; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrew Butcher. Reviewed at African Diaspora Film Festival, New York, Dec. 2, 2009. Running time: 97 MIN. (English, Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa dialogue)

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