White Wedding was South Africa’s official Academy Awards submission for 2009’s Best Foreign Language Film, which betrays a fatal lack of confidence on South Africa’s part. Positing a forgettable bit of romantic-comedy fluff like White Wedding as the country’s best of the best is a little like the United States entering Leap Year or Confessions Of A Shopaholic as its Best Foreign Film submission to South Africa’s answer to the Oscars.
Beefy Kenneth Nkosi stars as an affable but easily agitated young man in danger of going AWOL from his own wedding after missing a bus. In a desperate bid to make it to the ceremony on time, Nkosi embarks on a predictably wacky road trip alongside best man Rapulana Seiphemo and heartbroken Englishwoman Jodie Whittaker, who meets cute with Nkosi and Seiphemo when she pops up unexpectedly in the back seat of their car, in need of both a ride and emotional rescue. Nkosi’s gorgeous, worried fiancée, meanwhile, must cope with big-spending ex-boyfriend Mbulelo Grootboom and his suspiciously generous wedding gifts.
Jann Turner’s shiny, happy crowd-pleaser gleans a tiny shred of substance and social relevance from its exploration of racial and class politics in a post-apartheid South Africa that’s still very much split across race lines. But the film’s glib screenplay addresses these issues superficially, finding easy, reductive answers to complicated conflicts. For example, when Nkosi and Seiphemo enter a bar full of glowering cartoonish racists still stuck in a pre-Nelson Mandela era, everything gets resolved far too tidily when Nkosi gets one of the hateful barflies drunk and they bond over relationship woes. Apparently any deep-seated generational conflict can be resolved with camaraderie, off-key sing-alongs, and binge drinking. White Wedding pretends to delve into serious subject matter, but it flatters rather than challenges audiences by telling them exactly what they already know: Racism is bad, friendship and love are good. In that respect, it’s Oscar-friendly, if definitely not Oscar-worthy.