Saturday, October 25, 2008

Samoan Wedding

2006, New Zealand, directed by Chris Graham (original title: Sione's Wedding)

Like My Big Fat Greek Wedding - the comparison clearly occurred to the marketers who changed the original title - Samoan Wedding is also set amongst an immigrant population, in this case Auckland's Samoan community, a group so tightly knit that the film barely features a white New Zealander. While the film's focal point is a wedding, we spend our time not with the betrothed but rather with the groom's older brother and his three buddies, a quartet known only for their ability to create trouble.

Although united in their foolishness - as documented in a very amusing sequence early on, where old wedding videos chronicle their destructive antics - the four aren't cut from exactly the same cloth; they span the spectrum of employment and employability, from a shy mummy's boy (when he hasn't had a drink, that is) to a player who just can't settle down.

These characters are painted with a deliberately broad brush: the film never tries to conceal the fact that we're likely to recognize these types from other movies, nor that we can guess exactly what may happen to at least some of the bros (especially quiet Albert, played by co-writer Oscar Kightley). Instead, director Chris Graham concentrates on keeping the pace sharp - the film never flags, quickly moving from one set-piece to the next, and cross-cutting between the different characters as they resolve their dilemmas - and the lead actors milk every scene for all its comic potential.

There are multiple running jokes - the white boy who's convinced he's authentically ghetto, Stanley's exuberant cross-cultural dance moves ("I think I'm an Irishman trapped in the body of a Samoan") - and some fine physical comedy, and there's even a dash of insight into the community's attempts to integrate locally while preserving island traditions (there's one character who insists on being called Paul instead of Bolo, as if he's uncertain about his Samoan name). That more serious side is very much in the background, however - this is an upbeat portrayal of a minority community, featuring many actors of Samoan origin, rather than a film in the mould of the hard-hitting Once Were Warriors - but there's still a strong sense of the bonds that keep this neighbourhood together, and it's a gentle reminder that New Zealand has more than two sides to its ethnic story.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States