Jann Turner’s White Wedding, a South African version of The Hangover, reconsiders the vile ideology behind that American film as much as spray-painting a Barbie doll black would change any of her politics. Whether this is Vegas or Cape Town, the girl stays home moping while the boys go out and play.
In White Wedding, the boys in question are the romantic groom on the way to his big day and his womanizing best friend. They have to drive across the country to pick up the bride’s grandmother and make it to the wedding in time. For the girl to keep helplessly nagging and the boys to be betrayed by their own good intentions, obstacles must be placed on the way, including an obnoxious white girl from England who just canceled her wedding (the groom cheated with her best friend), a goat named George, and a pub with an apartheid flag hanging behind the bar (one of the most embarrassingly forced scenes in the film, in which racist white men become tolerant benefactors after a couple beers).
The bride waits, waits, and waits, but the groom never arrives. To make things worse, her mother wants to invite the entire family to the ceremony and stage some sort of not-so-chic cookout. But the girl is trying to make her special day sophisticatedly cool like white people’s, with the couture dress and the bitchy gay planner grafted right out of Bethenny Getting Married?
It is at once refreshing and disturbing to see that at least a section of South African denizens spend their lives rotating between the Africa of Ousmane Sembène’s Barom Sarret and the sky bar of the Gansevoort Hotel. One could say, that is, if one were generous, that White Wedding explores the paradoxes and anachronisms of the forgotten continent, probing the dirt roads separating the pestle-and-mortar-wielding, Zulu-speaking grandmothers from the young kids getting smashed at the club. Unfortunately, the film is much more concerned with reproducing the predictable, cringe-inducing triteness of Hollywood comedies than with giving us a hint as to what it means to be African today.
White Wedding falls victim of the post-colonial malaise that affects so many countries that seem to think great filmmaking, or great profit, can only be achieved through miming formulaic American cinema. Instead of a perfect copy, the outcome is often inconsequential, well-crafted grotesquerie. Whatever insights White Wedding offer us (there is more to Africa than starving children and civil wars) they are in the periphery of a much more inane, sexist message (boys will be boys). It is sad that the bankrupt politics of that message may not even be one inherent to this African story, but to the Hollywood formula it appropriates with such devotion.
There is a scene in White Wedding that echoes the last scene in one of the best films ever made about marriage: Béla Tarr’s The Prefab People. In Turner’s film, the womanizing best man and the white English girl are sitting in the back of a pickup truck with a goat between them, exchanging some trite lines of dialogue (at one point a character says, “The truth is always best no matter how much it hurts”). You get that the goat is supposed to serve some type of comedic function, and that the interracial couple is starting to fall in love. But there is no weight to any of the characters or their presumed feelings. You don’t care if the girl goes back to London, if she decides to stay and build a bed-and-breakfast with the man or if the goat licks someone in the face (which, of course, it does). In Tarr’s masterpiece, the man and the woman are also sitting in the back of a moving pickup truck and the camera is in exactly the same angle. They have a washing machine sitting between them. This is the last scene in the movie and you can feel every pound of that washing machine sinking in your stomach. Those characters are real, their miseries have turned your insides out. There is no trace of a script or any fabrication. And though the woman is blond and beautiful, she doesn’t even know what a Barbie is.