The ripple effect of an arranged marriage on an extended, problem-plagued Melbourne family is explored in director Amanda Jane’s ambitious, fitfully amusing “The Wedding Party.” More satisfyingly measured and significantly less exaggerated than Aussie comedy often plays, the film nevertheless features a sprawling narrative and various plot holes that conspire to raise as many questions as are answered. Its frank views on contempo relationships will gain it some traction locally, although partying days will be limited overseas.
Pic opens Oct. 11 in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, long after the film’s July 2010 preem as the curtain-raiser for the Melbourne Film Festival. Rushed through post to meet that deadline, it was felt to play long at 116 minutes and was subsequently trimmed. Though beautifully shot on 35mm in widescreen by Katie Milwright, the recut was processed, and will be exhibited digitally.
Twentysomething Steve Thompson (Josh Lawson) goes all in at the craps table and finds himself on the brink of foreclosure. Answering an ad in the paper, he collects $25,000 to marry Russian immigrant Ana Petrov (Isabel Lucas) so that she and her hotheaded b.f., Vlad (Nikolai Nikolaeff), can stay in the country.
Steve tries to hide his impending nuptials not only from love-of-his-life g.f. Jacqui (Kestie Morassi), but from his large family as well. When word gets out, the proper church wedding on which Steve’s family insists is jeopardized by all manner of eccentricities. Traditional mom Rose and preening dad Roger (Heather Mitchell and Steve Bisley) have split up, though Roger is reluctant to reveal new partner, Cheryl (Rhonda Burchmore).
The relationships enjoyed by Steve’s siblings are no less conflicted. Brother Colin (Geoff Paine) is a veterinarian whose obsession with S&M is stressing his marriage to wife Jane (Essie Davis) and adversely affecting the sexual experimentation of teenage daughter Eve (Nikita Leigh-Pritchard) and her b.f. Todd (Lincoln Younes). Steve’s sister Lisa (Nadine Garner) suffers from a kind of performance anxiety, much to the comic consternation of husband Tommy (Adam Zwar).
With so many balls in the air, so to speak, narrative gaps are inevitable. Rose and Ana seem to develop a closeness only hinted at, Ana’s dad Mikhail (Alex Menglet) is woefully underdeveloped, and the wedding itself, with vet actor Bill Hunter (who died in May 2011) as the priest, is anticlimactic.
Lawson’s deft comic timing and chemistry with the vivacious Morassi are thesping standouts, while Melbourne native Lucas gamely maintains an authentic-sounding Russian accent. Helmer Jane develops and sustains a pleasant, loping rhythm marred only by Eve’s voiceover framing device that delivers platitudes along the lines of, “Maybe being normal is underrated.” Other craft achievements are pro.