Second Hand Wedding
Details: (PG), 90 mins, In Cinemas 30 July 2010, New Zealand, English
Synopsis: A bittersweet dramatic comedy set in the present, in a time when trademe and e-bay threaten the primeval urge for a firsthand crack at the second-hand. Jill (Geraldine Brophy) keeps the dream alive until she is forced to confront the habits of a lifetime and concede that no bargain is worth her daughter’s happiness. Father of the bride, Brian (Patrick Wilson), quips that Cheryl’s (Holly Shanahan) upcoming wedding will be the first time anyone in the Rose family has given something away — and that’s the crux of it.
A love letter to small-town bonding.
The suburban world of Second Hand Wedding is sweet and kind and very, very nice. No matter the problem it can be solved with a few kind words and a cuppa tea; it’s the kind of picture marketeers once called ‘heart-warming’.
Shot on the Kapiti coast in New Zealand a couple of years ago, it’s a piece of Kiwiana, built around a few slight in-jokes about small-time life and the local’s love of kitsch. In it, everyone knows everyone else’s business and the weekend garage sale, observed like a gleeful ritual, is a very big deal indeed.
Essentially, the film, written by Nick Ward and Linda Niccol, is a love letter to small-town bonding (apparently, Ward based the movie’s kindly but daggy parents on his own). Director Paul Murphy, son of Geoff Murphy (Goodbye Pork Pie), a key figure in NZ’s film resurgence of the late ‘70s, is a smart operator. The style here is like comfort food – wholesome, and straightforward.
Second Hand Wedding isn’t quite a period piece, but it does feel like one. There’s little here to date the movie as urgently up to the minute; it’s a mobile phone free zone with a bland dress sense, and full of old-fashioned slang. It makes the film a bit like a nostalgia piece; involving yet nonthreatening. Comedy, by its nature, is hostile, but the targets here are so soft, the jokes are like sweet tickles, rather than jabs. Trouble is, it’s not very funny and its heart tugging seems a little glib. There are tears here and laughs and gasps but they are not really earned.
The film’s very slight plot is all about the fear of family embarrassment. Jill (Geraldine Brophy), mother of 20-something Cheryl (Holly Shanahan), spends her weekends racing in a little yellow mini from garage sale to sale, haggling bargains with her best mate Muffy (Tina Regtien). When Stew (Ryan O’Kane), Cheryl’s live-in boyfriend, pops the question, Cheryl is terrified that Mum will turn the upcoming nuptials into a ‘second-hand wedding’, so she elects not to tell Jill about her plans. When Jill finally does find out she’s hurt beyond belief.
The rest of the movie is about how this tear in the family fabric gets mended and Murphy and co. mobilise some classic melodramatic riffs to get the movie to the altar so everyone can live happily ever after. Best friends team up to help out; what seem like peripheral sub-plots are pressed into action and there’s even a sudden family illness that starts the healing process…
The jokes are so small and slight they are barely there and most are observational (Dad, beautifully played by Patrick Wilson, wears a cardi and tie combination that screams ‘lovable dag’, for instance). Still, you get the feeling that Murphy has a greater feel for tears than jokes; all of the large key cast play with great sincerity and the movie’s big emotional climaxes are consequently delivered with a whopping punch to the heart.
Still, for it’s all its good nature, there’s something a bit emotionally dishonest about the set-up. Cheryl, for instance, seems more of a teenager than a grown-up and the rift between mother and daughter seems more a trivial tiff than a genuine crisis over conflicting values and blood ties. But perhaps that’s just taking it all too seriously. This is a fairytale, in ‘dag’ vision. It’s the kind of movie that begs to be cuddled, not questioned. It wants us to feel good because it’s so kind. But kind can be tough, too, and beneath all that affection is a lot of cool calculation.
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