Marriage: there is nothing easy about it. Merging two lives, two souls, two histories successfully — it is one of the most difficult things two people can do. Getting to the altar is the easy part, but even in getting to that point, chance and fate have a funny way of intervening.
Yes, that oh-so-dynamic duo once more makes its presence known, this time in the beautiful and enjoyable South African romantic comedy White Wedding.
It tells the story of Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi) and his fiancee Ayanda (Zandie Msutwana), a couple only a few days away from getting married. They are young and very much in love, but there is one obstacle: Elvis and his best man Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo) must make the 1,000-mile trek from Johannesburg to Cape Town. This seems simple enough, especially to Ayanda, but then again this is a romantic comedy, where uneventful 1,000-mile treks through the South African countryside are simply bad for business.
Things go awry from the beginning. Elvis misses his bus at the airport and Tumi’s girlfriend finds him in bed with the, um, “entertainment” from the previous night’s bachelor party. Thus, the stage is set for a colorful cast of characters to enter each of their lives, who at once challenge their preconceptions and reaffirm their deepest beliefs.
There is Rose (Jodie Whittaker), the pretty, recently unengaged English doctor; Tony (Mbulelo Grootboom), Ayanda’s ex-lover, handsome, rich, and fresh from the United States; Fanie van Zyl (Marcel Van Heerden), the alcoholic South African ex-priest; and the merry gang of Afrikaners who manage to set aside the prejudices of apartheid to help Elvis, Tumi and Rose.
The performances on the whole are superb. Whittaker displays a wonderful sense of comedic timing and turns what could be a whiny, unsympathetic character into one that is truly heartwarming.
The leads, Nkosi and Seiphemo, are newcomers to American audiences, but their clash of styles and personalities combine nicely to form perhaps the most entertaining buddy team since Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church plied their wares in Sideways.
The remainder of the cast is solid, but Marcel Van Heerden deserves special mention. His appearance is a shot of energy that props up an otherwise banal third act, and the fact that he can successfully pull off a character who bridges the gap between black and white formed by apartheid is a major coup.
The racial subplots are perhaps one of the strongest points of the film, and they are indicative of a social consciousness that separates White Wedding from its American counterparts.
It is difficult to address race in any medium without arousing ire, but White Wedding manages to do so successfully by taking a “let’s bury the hatchet” stance that stresses the underlying similarities among races rather than the differences.
In one particularly brilliant scene set in an Afrikaner bar, van Zyl attempts to buy Elvis a drink, but he is rebuffed.
“What? You think I don’t have money?” Elvis asks. Van Zyl replies, “What? You think I don’t have problems?”
Perhaps more than anything, White Wedding is a South African film, and it’s culture — from the almost unnavigable countryside to the racial stresses of apartheid — is what makes the film feel so fresh and unique.
A sense of joy permeates the film. It is a celebration of life and love. A celebration of fidelity, grounded by a fundamental belief in the institution of marriage. To pledge yourself to another, to dedicate yourself to growing old with another, it is a worthy goal — something that should be celebrated loudly and publicly, with laughter and joy.
White Wedding was screened as part of Outside the Box (Office). To view the calendar of free film screenings on campus, visit cinema.usc.edu/outsidetheboxoffice.