I learned several things about South Africa in “White Wedding,” an entertaining but forgettable comedy about two men and one woman roadtripping from Johannesburg to Cape Town, but the most interesting fact I discovered was that their films are just as susceptible to cliches as their American counterparts. The accents may change, but the stereotypes of roadtrip and wedding movies remain exactly the same: the traditional parents who clash with their forward-thinking children, the crotchety old relative with weird superstitions, the effeminate wedding planner, the bride who has to choose between love and security, the woman who misinterprets a man’s bad luck as a fear of commitment. Since “White Wedding”‘s ultimate lesson is one of universality, this choice is weirdly appropriate. We all want love. We all fear commitment. We all like reassuringly familiar narratives that juxtapose literal journeys of low-stakes danger with metaphorical journeys of personal discovery.
And when I say low stakes I mean really low stakes. This film is as suspenseful as a beer commercial. Gregarious Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi) has to get to Cape Town by Saturday to marry the lovely Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana), but he’s beset by one disaster after another: a missed bus, a flaky best man named Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo), a broken car axle, a surly goat, even a stowaway named Rose (Jodie Whittaker) who tags along in order to catch a flight back home to England. Though the primary theme is marriage, a lot of the screenplay by Nkosi, Msutwana, and director Jann Turner is about broken relationships: Rose’s with a fiance who cheated on her, Tumi’s with a girl he cheated on, Ayanda’s with a man who left her for America but now wants her back. Of course, love has a way of conquering all in a movie like this, and “White Wedding” is less about its impossibility than its necessity, even in the face of insurmountable odds. That message will strike you as either reassuring or cloying depending on your own personal attitude, as will the absurd scenes involving racist Afrikaners who reverse beliefs they’ve held their entire lives after a couple of beers with Elvis and Tumi.
Then again, there is something innately likable about Nkosi and Seiphemo. The actors are long-time friends — they even took a road trip similar to the one portrayed in the film along with Turner some years ago — and their bickering, fraternal relationship is one of the few parts of “White Wedding” grounded in reality rather than fantasy. They, along with the absolutely beautiful scenery of South Africa, held my attention.
There’re worse ways to spend your time, and worse movies to spend your money on, than “White Wedding.” For a price substantially smaller than a plane ticket to South Africa, you’ll see many of the country’s sights and hear many of its languages, including Afrikaans, Tswana, and Zulu. And, of course, the language of film, which is universal.
“White Wedding” is now playing in New York and L.A.