Nuptials will make you nuts - at least, that's what the media would like you to believe. From Bridezillas to bumbling Best Men, getting to the church on time and simply surviving the bachelor party, the soon to be newlywed has their often onerous work cut out for them. While commitment and love would seemingly solve all potential pitfalls, entertainment would never bank on such basics. No, weddings now require outlandish slapstick struggles, arc insane supporting players, weird planners and party guests, and the often unnecessary addition of an animal/child/incontinent relative. Turn the whole event into one protracted comedy bit, and watch the turnstiles twist. Only problem is - once established, the man and wife mannerisms of movie hitching have become common and redundant. As a result, almost any film focusing on a befuddled bride and groom has to provide something fresh, less it look like just another ersatz religious sacrament gone psycho. White Wedding hopes to overcome this hurdle by providing a decidedly South African point of view to such situations. Sadly, the change in locale doesn't lend itself to any real novelty - or nuance - or fun.
It's mere days before his wedding and poor, beleaguered Elvis has done the unthinkable - he's gone and missed his bus from Durban to his bride Ayanda - and she is all the way across country in Cape Town. As she plans their Western style white wedding, her traditional family balks at such pretense. Luckily, she has an effete planner to mince about and approve every over the top desire. Hoping his goofy best man Tumi can help, our hero hops in his pal's unpredictable car and the two head off to try and make it on time. Of course, on such a long road trip, nothing is smooth sailing. While Ayanda's ex-boyfriend shows up to try and woo her back, our bumbling duo face various impediments both mechanical and personal - the biggest being a white female doctor named Rose who steals away in their car. Hoping to get back to England, the naive medico adds an unsettling racial element to a journey already fraught with racism and other ridiculousness. Soon, the question is no longer if Elvis will make it on time, but will he make it alive.
When you read that White Wedding was/is the title the South African government submitted for consideration in last year's Best Foreign Film race, you expect certain things. When you also learn that it is a road movie comedy centering around two black Africans, far from an impending nuptials and lost in a racist and unforgiving bush, said prospects are increased several fold. Then, when you read that the plot contains the second act arrival of an accidental stowaway/hitchhiker in the form of a white English female doctor, all possible scenarios skyrocket. Even the Blu-ray case proclaims the movie to be a "lighter, gentler Hangover", further pushing the level of possibility. So it should come as no surprise then that this otherwise amiable novelty fails to achieve any of its proposed goals. While clever, it's not laugh out loud funny. While usual for its home market, the supposedly madcap adventures of these two lost travelers (and their eventual hot button companion) are nothing new to a Western crowd. While a post-apartheid South Africa still simmers from bitter ethnic tensions, director Jann Turner is not brave enough to push the intolerance envelope. And sadly, the arrival of a doctor played by Jodie Whittaker only adds limited fuel to an already dwindling, and derivative, fire.
As a window into the way in which other cultures view the standards of physical and situational wit, White Wedding is just weird. You'd swear that clichés and contrivances don't travel to other regions, let alone become the form for funny business. While we like to believe such concepts are universal, the truth is that different countries have differing ideas of humor. It's part of their folklore, the make-up of their specific heritages. Unless you go for something completely generic like the Benny Hill belly laughs of The Gods Must Be Crazy, everything - and that is all inclusion - tends to get lost in translation. Of course our lead misses the bus, must suffer through a car that can't remain mechanically sound, and an escort whose idea of both dependability and timing are amazingly misguided. Oh - and who knew that all one has to do in order to thwart long simmering bigotry between the races is merely pour on the booze, sing a few songs, and belabor your lack of a real relationship. Apparently, heartache and female troubles are more important that skin color or several decades of forced segregation. No one is expecting a political diatribe here - that would also be awful. But to circumvent the issue in such a silly, frivolous way is indicative of White Wedding's weak approach.
What's really missing here is insight. We have a recognizable situation in an unique setting. We have people and places we still know very little about. Add in the civil unrest backstory and the plot pieces seemingly fall into place. Instead, Turner is too busy mimicking the maudlin mainstream dreck that Hollywood exports on an almost monthly basis and believes she is right there beside them. But just like looking up to a hooker for moral sexual guidance, the Tinseltown RomCom is a bad, bad example. White Wedding had so much more to work with and, yet, it decides to deaden the possibilities for more road movie "meh." Of course, if this were side splittingly funny or somehow irreverent in style or spirit, we'd forgive the formula. But White Wedding really doesn't get the difference between its world and the one crafted by hack studio suits in Los Angeles. While we aren't asking for a point by point breakdown of the various political elements that make up this complicated country, a little local color would be nice. While it tries to add a splash of specificity here and there, the overall sensibility is shallow and stupid. White Wedding wants to play right alongside the Hollywood heavyweights - and that's its biggest problem in a nutshell.
It's hard to tell if White Wedding was captured on film or high definition video and then given a post-production filmic sheen. It is a low budget affair for sure, which means other technical issues like lighting and location could be the cause for some of the transfers visual glitches. The 1.78:1 backdrops are soft and washed out and there's just not the same level of detail you come to expect from a 1080p/AVC encoded transfer. The colors are sharp and clear, though they also have a tendency to be slightly shallow and vague and the movement occasional gives up the lack of a real cinematic feel. Still, the movie looks rather good, giving the impression of something made by professionals who understand the basics of moviemaking. While not an optical showstopper, the Blu-ray maintains its high definition formatting.
As with some Indian and Asian films, there is a weird desire on the part of the filmmakers to mix languages. English will be mixed with Afrikaans and Xhosa, meaning that conversations have to be listened to and read. Luckily, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does a good job of keeping the conversations front and center, though it doesn't help us understand the foreign tongues any better (the subtitles supply the necessary information). There is some directional use of the speakers and the back channels are often present, offering ambient noises during several outdoor scenes. Overall, the aural aspects here make decent, if not definitive, use of the updated format.
All we get is a trailer, which is tragic. A film like this needs supplements to explain itself. A two minute plus advertisement is not going to do the trick.
When you consider the comedic standard White Wedding wants to be held to, it's difficult to know if the film should be scorned...or pitied. After all, aiming to be like any number of the flaccid, formulaic, fill in the blank Hollywood RomComs from the last five years is not an enviable aim - especially when you've got an entire unknown culture and continent to explore. As a result, White Wedding earns a borderline Rent It. Many will find this too harsh and believe the effort belies a recommendation. While true, there is just too much forced familiarity here to make it an easy decision. Getting hitched can be a harrowing, harried, hilarious, and horrific experience. It can also be a day on the calendar. Whatever the case, White Wedding needed to do more with its backdrop and less with its mainstream mentors. The result is something frivolous and wholly forgettable.