Director: Jeffrey Walker
Screenwriters: Osamah Sami and Andrew Knight
Runtime: 110 mins.
Australian release date: 31 August 2017
Previewed at: The Reel Room, Sydney, on 21 August 2017.
Set in Melbourne, the city considered by many to be the bastion of multiculturalism in Australia, Ali’s Wedding is a rather slight comedy about an arranged marriage which comes with the tagline “based on a true story - unfortunately.” It was enthusiastically received at this year’s Sydney Film Festival and will inevitably be compared to the recent US feature The Big Sick, which was also co-written by its male lead and based on his real-life experience. Regrettably this iteration doesn’t quite hit the mark, which is a shame, as the performances are all terrific, but the story itself doesn’t work as well.
Ali (Osamah Sami) is caught up in the web of lies he’s woven so as not to disappoint the high hopes of his parents, who’ve always anticipated that he will be a doctor, but when his university entrance results arrive he’s forced to go one step further and pretend that he’s done a lot better than he has in order to keep face. His Iraqi-born father Sheikh Mahdi (Don Hany) is the highly-regarded cleric at their local mosque so Ali’s family naturally expects he will marry a local Moslem girl from a ‘good’ family and go on to a successful career in medicine. In the meantime, however, Ali has met and fallen for the local Lebanese fish-and-chip seller’s daughter Dianne (Helana Sawires), replete with chipped front teeth which add to her not-perfect, but utterly endearing, presence. Dianne is also aiming to study medicine and, unlike Ali, has qualified for Melbourne Uni.
Veteran Aussie cinematographer Don McAlpine effectively captures the arresting opening scene as Ali hijacks a tractor to race off to the airport. From that moment on the audience is taken on a roller-coaster ride that reveals Ali’s back story, weaving in and out of a calamitous series of events that raise issues about family, duty and love in multicultural Australia. There are some amusing moments; one in particular to watch out for is when Ali stuffs up the protocol of drinking tea with his prospective in-laws, which apparently denotes whether or not a man is ready for marriage. Overall though, the script by Sami and acclaimed screenwriter Andrew Knight disappoints. Despite the fact that it won an AWGIE for Best Original Screenplay, it is let down by the failure to properly explain Ali’s character - we learn what he doesn’t want in life but we never learn what he does want (apart from Dianne). This lack of exposition leaves him as a bit of an enigma, not something you want in a central character with whom the audience needs to identify.
Australian audiences are pretty au fait with so-called ‘ethnic’ comedies, particularly from TV series like Fat Pizza and Wog Boys, so Jeffrey Walker’s debut feature film is rather erroneously being marketed as Australia’s first multicultural rom-com. Whoever came up with that line obviously hasn’t seen Alex and Eve, Peter Andrikidis’s 2015 romance about a Greek Orthodox guy wooing a Lebanese Moslem gal. And the issue of cross-cultural romance has been covered before too, in films like The Combination, so Ali’s Wedding isn’t breaking any new ground here either. It does go one step further than similar films, however, by including hilarious scenes from Saddam The Musical (about Saddam Hussein), which was performed in Sheikh Mahdi’s suburban mosque - and, according to Sami, really happened. Now what could be more diverse, and uniquely Australian, than that?