Up to his eyeballs in debt, Steve (Josh Lawson) agrees to marry Anna (Isabel Lucas), a beautiful Russian girl for cash. When his plans for a secret registry affair are discovered by his family, Steve finds himself at the center of the world's most farcical wedding. The only problem is, Steve is in love with someone else.
Melbourne International Film Festival: If you take the raucous ocker shenanigans of Dimboola in the 1970s or the insular suburban fantasy of Muriel’s Wedding 20 years later as a guide, then a wedding ceremony may be one of the best conduits for understanding both Australia and the Australian cinema. Certainly the wheel has turned again with The Wedding Party, the intermittently enjoyable comedy that opened the 59th Melbourne International Film Festival. Amanda Jane’s ensemble piece may have deficiencies in terms of structure and intent, but its comically frank attitude to sex is a welcome development.
Steve (Josh Lawson) has several problems, including a groaning mountain of debt that threatens both his business and the home he shares with the unaware Jacqui (Kestie Morassi), as well as a tendency to offer line readings with all the stammering, flustered precision of a young Hugh Grant. To alleviate the former he answers a newspaper advert placed by Anna (Isabel Lucas), a Russian immigrant who wants to marry locally to secure her residency. For $25,000 Steve gets engaged to Anna, with the wedding scheduled within weeks, Jacqui to tell, and his family to deceive.
Steve is the classic protagonist who to solve a problem inadvertently creates an even larger one. But the film doesn’t actually have a great deal of fun with the scenario. There’s little domestic awkwardness when Steve moves in with Anna (unless you count her preternatural ability to be taking a shower whenever someone rings the doorbell), despite the fuming presence of her real Russian boyfriend, Vlad (Nikolai Nikolaeff). The picture has the makings of a farce, but it never goes through with it. The scenes are short and often peak with a deadpan punchline, while the mood is hemmed in by the persistent autumnal transition shots and the surprisingly melancholic score. You keep expecting more than just a heart to get broken.
In part this may be due to the storyline, outlined by Jane and screenwriter Christine Bartlett, being more concerned with the strange flaws of Steve’s extended family. His father, silver fox Roger (Steve Bisley), has been turfed out by Steve mother, Rose (Heather Mitchell); his veterinarian brother Colin (Geoff Paine) is growing ever more obsessed with his bondage fantasies, buying his own dog collar even as his wife Jane (Essie Davis) becomes suspicious; his sister Lisa (Nadine Garner) is troubled by 'spastic vaginal muscles", a condition that is unnerving her husband Tommy (Adam Zwar). Within these arcs we get a sense of contemporary Australia’s increasingly complex attitude to sexual relations, as well as genuinely funny moments. When Colin suddenly uses the kind of language he’s heard watching porn while in bed with Jane she heaves him off her and quizzically repeats back his words.
Amidst all this Lawson’s protagonist gets somewhat lost. Despite having a letter from Jacqui he carries with him without opening, not to mention a clichéd third act run through the streets to declare his love, little changes for the likeable comic. (It’s never clear, for example, how Steve succumbed to debt). However, Zwar, from SBS’s Wilfred, proves to be something of a scene stealer; he’s the kind of screen presence whose character’s anxieties can’t help but influence his each action.
The Wedding Party may well have been a better film if the underdone premise of the fake wedding had been done away with altogether, because the movie is more interesting when it picks at the foibles and fears that gather around these couples. It has risqué moments that are actually resonant.