White Wedding
Staring contests are usually the best way to settle racial conflicts.

Theatrical Release Date: 10/01/2010
Director: Jann Turner
Cast: Kenneth Nkosi, Zandile Msutwana, Rapulana Seiphemo, Jodie Whittaker, Marcel Van Heerden, Mbulelo Grootboom, Sylvia Mngxekeza

I’m usually a fan of South African films; as they either deal with some challenging subject material thanks to their history of Apartheid, or contain a vibrancy that translates from their culture to the screen. And I normally make it a policy to never disagree with Billy Idol. All of this leads to why it pains me somewhat to say that it’s not a nice day for a “White Wedding”.

The film centers around the impending marriage between Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi) and Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana). Elvis is driving across South Africa with his best friend Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo), taking the time to bond and pick up Ayanda’s grandmother along the way. As fate would have it, they pick up Rose (Jodie Whittaker), who is hitchhiking to Cape Town in order to make a flight home to England after a row with a former friend.

Along the way, the trio are forced to confront some of their personal issues – pretty standard fare so far. Of course, rather than simply tell an intimate tale, writer/director Jann Turner also adds a stopover in a small town made up of Afrikaners who are still a bit miffed that they don’t live in the days when whites and blacks held separate status.

It’s at this point that the film loses any chance of maintaining its dramatic hopes, quickly devolving into something rather infuriating, as systematic issues stemming from Apartheid are forgiven after one drunken afternoon and the film speeds towards the sappy resolution everyone saw coming thousands of kilometers away.

Odder than the plot is that much of it based on personal experience as Nkosi, Seiphemo and Turner drove across South Africa on a road trip of their own. That Nkosi could befriend an Afrikaner still holding onto racism over a drink is great. Of course, it’s also much harder to make that experience feel sincere on screen – which never happens. From that point in the film on, it’s more of a comedic farce than anything else and this shift in genre derails any goodwill built previously.

The performances themselves are varied. Nkosi is at times naturalistic, while more often than not his frustration at the constantly challenged road trip comes off as very one note. Seiphemo suffers a bit from this as well, not quite able to pull off the evolution of his character from player to monogamist. Thankfully, the women of the film do a better job but not by much and all of the production feels very much like a high-end student project at film school.

A 2 out of 5, I’m baffled that this is South Africa’s official entry for the Academy Awards (in the Foreign Language category). I applaud that Turner and the actors wanted to present their take on what their modern-day country is like but too many elements are amateurish; and at best, this is weekend afternoon fare you’d expect on a local cable channel as you drift off for a little siesta; certainly not what you’d feel proud to have paid to see, whether in a theater or on DVD.