It might feel incongruous to describe the sunny, diminutive Miranda Tapsell as a burgeoning powerhouse – with the connotations of ruthless ambition which that may entail – but that’s exactly what the actress, writer and producer is shaping up to be. A much loved player thanks to her roles on TV’s Love Child and Doctor Doctor, and a prominent figure in indigenous screen storytelling (The Sapphires, Redfern Now, Cleverman, Little J & Big Cuz), Tapsell now truly asserts herself with the big screen delight, Top End Wedding, on which she is unquestionably the driving force, weighing in as star, co-writer and associate producer. The film also mines details of Tapsell’s own life for its background, while her commitment to telling indigenous stories means that Top End Wedding is much, much more than just a fizzy, frolicking romantic comedy, though it’s certainly that too.
Tapsell stars as Lauren, whose warmth and ditziness have been no hindrance to her rapid rise in the corporate world. She’s in love with nice guy British lawyer, Ned (Bohemian Rhapsody’s Gwilym Lee), who pops the question after losing his job, and gets a big yes. The loved up pair set to planning their wedding on Lauren’s Northern Territory home turf, but there’s one problem: her mother has gone AWOL, leaving her dad a heartbroken mess, and putting their intended nuptials on hold. Ned and Lauren head off to Darwin, and then begin a frantic search to find the bride-to-be’s missing mum and get the wedding back on track.
With Tapsell and Lee a literal explosion of charm and chemistry (though Kerry Fox steals all her scenes as Lauren’s domineering boss), Top End Wedding delivers the same kind of commercial kick as director Wayne Blair’s debut feature, The Sapphires. Like that film, it unashamedly shoots for a big, broad audience in the mood for a good time, with its plentiful laughs, upbeat tunes, and Tourism Australia-worthy cinematography (Eric Murray Lui does truly stunning work here) and eye-popping Northern Territory backdrops. But within that warm-and-fuzzy outer package are threaded themes of cultural connection, the importance of family, and the essential ties that our indigenous peoples have with their geographical and spiritual homes. So characteristic of Miranda Tapsell as a talent with something to say, these finely wrought elements ground the film beautifully, and add much needed weight to its frothier moments. Bubbly but meaningful, Top End Wedding ingeniously has its (wedding) cake and eats it too.