Ever since the movie Wedding Crashers turned into a summer blockbuster a few years ago, hot weather has been a time for cineplex nuptials.
Two years ago, producers sent Mamma Mia marching down the theater aisle in July. Last summer it was The Hangover in June. And now, with Hollywood taking a marital breather, South Africa brings us White Wedding just days before Labor Day, proving that the marriage-go-round makes folks dizzy the world over for much the same reasons — traditional families battling modern brides, bachelor parties gone awry, dashing exes who show up in sports cars at inopportune moments.
But if the tensions are universal, the specifics are strictly South African when Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana) urges her intended, a sweet lug named Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi), to hurry to Capetown from Johannesburg. Like most grooms, Elvis thinks he has all the time in the world — five whole days to cover a few hundred miles — but he's not counting on buses that leave without him, a best man (Rapulana Seiphemo) whose girlfriend slashes their tires, and a granny who decides she'll skip the wedding but send a goat instead.
Oh, and then there's the hitchhiking English tourist (Jodi Whittaker) the groom and best man reluctantly rescue in the middle of nowhere. Having just discovered that her fiancé slept with her best friend, she launches into a lengthy why-would-anyone-get-married? rant before discovering her rescuers are heading to Elvis' nuptials.
This white English girl traveling with two black men raises a few eyebrows in rural South Africa. And as it happens, that was a good part of the inspiration for making the film. Director Jann Turner, who is white, and her leading men came up with their screenplay after taking a cross-country trip of their own along much this same route. Finding "whites only" signs more than a decade after the end of apartheid had them thinking about the transitions the country was still in the process of making.
And because they've incorporated things that happened to them on that real road trip, some very unlikely events in the film feel perfectly authentic, including a visit to an Afrikaner bar where a guy who is furious about what he calls "kaffirs" sitting at his table ends up their buddy after a few beers.
It's easy to imagine how wrong this movie could go: how it could become all about race, how the groom's misadventures could make it feel like The Hangover played sideways, how the five languages spoken in the film could make the story splinter into pieces.
But White Wedding is about connections, and it has the good sense to pull them together in a film that's sweet, inclusive and sunny, a charmer filled with people who seem every bit as surprised as we are when they manage to look past surface differences, and find reasons to bond. (Recommended)