Nice day for a White Wedding?by Nathan Zeno / 30.04.2009
For some inexplicable reason, during the big reunion scene in White Wedding (this is not a plot spoiler, it’s got wedding in the title, there’ll be a wedding, kids.) I shed a tear. Not buckets and not of laughter either, but a real tear or two. Through most of this loosely paced slack romantic comedy I had just one thought, its like a dull Leon Schuster remake, without the racists. And then they introduce the racists, who typically come to love the darkies in their midst. Sometime after this happens when we have been battered with a succession of bad stereotypes and typical South African style bonding for over an hour. After the typically township mother finally finds disapproval for the ex-lover she has been “subtly” promoting since his return from “America”. And after the groom, late for his wedding, after his really long road trip, finally makes it, there is a moment of pure emotional honesty and restraint that underscores the subsequent reunion scene that actually makes White Wedding, for me, utterly worth it.
Maybe I’m a sentimental fool, but right here I should stop and say I’m a sucker for a good rom com, betraying myself slightly I must also admit that I have a preference for straight chick flick over a rom com any day. I prefer my romance with angst, not comedy. However as Mr Bones has amply demonstrated South Africans have a huge appetite for scenes of foreigners discovering how much they like Africa and Africans interspersed with scenes of interracial bonding. Short Note at this point. White Wedding is about contrasts and while “Mannenberg” features as a Cape Town’s signature song on the soundtrack, no actual coloured people are portrayed in the film (unless the gay wedding planner has a touch of the tar brush, but I can’t tell, the quality of the digitally screened film, obviously designed to make its money on small screen, left all tonal quality out of the film, similar to it’s plot).
There is a place in Johannesburg just outside of the city proper, up a little hill which gives a nice view of the city. It’s an in-joke amongst some cameramen I know to call this place,”Where the tripods marks are”, White Wedding starts with a that shot of the city from this location, like so many films before it, talk about announcing your intentions. For this reason alone, I despaired, I honestly felt I had to settle in to a film I was going to dislike immensely. And there were immense parts of it I did dislike. But the person responsible for this film is a supremely able director, their episodes of “Hard Copy” were always the best of any series, so I had to ask myself, “What is Jann Turner doing making this movie?”.
The only plausible answer I could come up with lies in the obvious exclusion of an easy dead-grandma joke and with it’s comedically slack replacement, the grandma’s-not-going joke. Turner is not trying to make a Leon Schuster film, she is in actual fact subverting the genre. The dead grandma joke would be easy, but, in the films conclusion’s return to scenes of reality, as opposed to the slapstick that precedes it, it would have to have been detected in, at least a layer of, sadness, in order to stay with that reality. While White Wedding panders to easy humour to ease the masses in, it will not sacrifice itself to it. While Turner is prepared to acquiesce to the fact that yes, we all are in fact stereotypes, she is not prepared to leave them heartless. The skilful performances in the non-comedy scenes far outweigh the loose comedy that the film is supposedly. It’s almost as if Turner is trying to seduce an audience sector into getting more from their films. Maybe I’m going too far, maybe White Wedding is an attempt to cash in on a genre by someone who can’t help but let their television drama roots show through.
As a film, White Wedding will slip into history, as a South African comedy, it is easily a second to “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. I can only hope that everyone who sees it will find Schuster films empty from now on, because as incremental as it is, White Wedding adds to a genre, even rescues it from the pit it has been sinking into for so very long. For this, it can only be commended. Or maybe it is just a shameless cash in.