It's a relatively simple story told from a unique cultural perspective, but don't assume that Chris Graham's Samoan Wedding (titled Sione's Wedding in its native New Zealand) is big, fat or Greek; actually, it's a bit closer to Wedding Crashers in many respects. This well-meaning but slightly uneven comedy doesn't exactly aim high in all regards, but it does manage to tread through familiar territory fairly well. The story centers around four rowdy young men who habitually destroy formal occasions with their drunken antics; as a result, they've been banned from their best friend's wedding. Here's the catch: since the big event is roughly a month away, they've each got to find girlfriends---and serious ones, no less---or their invitations will remain canceled. Essentially, we've got to find out if these party boys, now pushing 30, can finally grow up in as many days.
The goofballs in question are Michael (Robby Magasiva), Albert (Oscar Kightley), Stanley (Iaheto Ah Hi) and Sefa (Shimpal Lelisi); respectively categorized as "the ladies' man" (and also the groom's brother), "the good boy", "the weird one" and "the party boy". Though their separate personalities aren't anything new and different, their charismatic nature ensures that at least they aren't boring. The standout here is Oscar Kightley (who also wrote and co-produced the film) as Albert, whose shy demeanor is rendered well in a likeable performance, but there really isn't a bad one in the bunch. Several characters are fairly predictable, but this certainly isn't the fault of the actors.
Still, it's Samoan Wedding's solid wit and charm that make it worth watching. Despite the backdrop of a romantic comedy, it's also a film told from an unflinchingly male perspective---rotating between immaturity and responsibility, of course. The characters' diverse personalities ensure that you'll probably identify with at least one of them, either now or at some point in the past. It doesn't always fire on all cylinders---in fact, it even seems a bit padded for a 96 minute film---but it has strengths that aren't hard to miss. Those looking for a comedy/drama a little off the beaten path could certainly do a lot worse, as Samoan Wedding manages to balance the two quite nicely.
Unfortunately, Magnolia's Region 1 DVD release suffers from one major technical flaw, covered in more detail below. It may not prevent die-hard fans from picking this one up, but it's a problem that's becoming quite common as of late. Aside from the flaw, though, it's been granted a decent audio presentation and a few interesting extras, elevating it from a skippable disc to one worth checking out over the weekend. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
It's not hard to notice that things look a little "off" during Samoan Wedding, and there's a good reason why: the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been cropped and zoomed to fill 1.78:1 displays. Compositions have been butchered on more than one occasion (heck, just look at the first screen capture); specifically, group shots are off balance and two-way dialogue often looks more like monologue. It's a shame, too, because the anamorphic transfer is quite good otherwise: colors are bold and strong, image detail is solid and black levels are right on par. Still, this isn't the film's original aspect ratio and the DVD earns low marks for it.
Presented in an English 2.0 Dolby Digital mix, the audio treatment is good but not spectacular. The frequent music cues could be a bit more active at times, but the dialogue is clear and front channel separation isn't half bad. Optional Spanish subtitles have been included during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the lightly animated menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 97-minute main feature has been divided into 20 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind.
A pair of extras provides some additional support, leading off with a feature-length Audio Commentary with producer/writer/actor Oscar Kightley, producer/writer James Griffin and actor David Fane. All three participants are laid-back and in good spirits during this lively track, often sharing plenty of production stories and the like. It's a fairly standard commentary for the most part, but their infectious enthusiasm makes it worth listening to.
Also here is a brief Behind-the-Scenes featurette (19:18), which touches on basic topics like cast assembly, pre-production, story, music and the like. Featuring words from the commentary participants and other members of the cast and crew, those who enjoyed Samoan Wedding should certainly check it out. This featurette is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (including the movie clips) and includes no subtitles or Closed Captioning support.
Slightly uneven but confident, Samoan Wedding offers a solid amount of laughs and a few genuinely moving moments. It's not without a few rough patches (and often seems padded, even though it's only 96 minutes long), but there's certainly enough here to make it worth looking into. Unfortunately, Magnolia's Region 1 release suffers from a butchered aspect ratio---and even though the audio and extras are passable, that alone keeps this from being a worthwhile blind buy. Serious fans of the film should opt for an import, while others should be satisfied with a weekend viewing. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.