Based on true stories from the life of Osamah Sami, ‘Ali’s Wedding’ follows a young Iraqi-Australian Muslim in Melbourne who deceives his parents into thinking he is studying medicine while caught between an arranged marriage and a love match. Ali is the kind-hearted son of a Muslim cleric who, despite the best of intentions, just can’t seem to make the right life choices in his efforts to make his father proud.
What will Ali do to live up to these impossible expectations? Tell some absolute whoppers, mostly.
Sami, who co-wrote this Aussie comedy with Andrew Knight (the pair received the Australian Writers Guild award for best feature screenplay last October), stars as the titular Ali. Don Hany (‘East West 101’) plays Ali's father, a kindly Muslim cleric and pillar of the community. Helana Sawires plays the independent-minded Dianne, whose devout Iranian father refuses to let her go to university and mix with Westerners. Ali is understandably smitten with Dianne – Sawires is luminous in the role.
‘Ali’s Wedding’ shares a few DNA strands with other comedies (a line from ‘Annie Hall’ is riffed on early in the film), most notably the Judd Apatow-produced ‘The Big Sick’. That film, also largely autobiographical, followed a Pakistani bachelor awkwardly negotiating arranged marriages, religion and cultural expectations in Chicago.
Unlike ‘The Big Sick’, this film takes place entirely within the Muslim community (the only memorable white character is Ryan Corr’s Wazza), with some Arabic and Farsi dialogue. This is significant for a local film, presenting audiences with a slice of Australian life that many will be unfamiliar with (or even fearful of). Also of note is the amount of warmth, humour and affection with which Ali’s community is lovingly rendered.
‘Ali’s Wedding’ is the first feature film to be directed by Jeffrey Walker, who has previously helmed TV shows like ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Jack Irish’. There isn’t a lot of visual flash, but Walker expertly utilises various locations around Melbourne and country Victoria to immerse the audience in Ali’s world. Ali’s home, workplace and his local mosque are brought to life with obvious personal detail.
Also of note is the amount of warmth, humour and affection with which Ali’s community is lovingly rendered.
However, the film isn’t without some flaws. Like ‘The Big Sick’, there are still a few stereotypes rattling around: Ali’s Muslim parents are pushy and eager for their hapless son to become a doctor and get married to the nearest single brown young Muslim woman. The women in the community, while depicted as more intelligent and intuitive than the men, don’t have much personal agency, either.
Casting-wise, a very funny Don Hany is only seven years older than Osamah Sami, his onscreen son. Sami, at 34-years old, is a little old to be playing the youthful Ali. Occasionally, this gets distracting.
More cracks in the film emerge when the script tries to cram Sami’s autobiographical, authentic-feeling story into the conventional structure of a romantic comedy. When Ali’s central deceit is discovered late in the piece, the narrative gets a bit clunky and the tone gradually blands out, the film moving towards a slightly saccharine finish line.
Australia is multicultural. There are Greeks, there are Italians, Arabs, Indians, and Chinese – a variety of cultures. And it’s time, definitely, that this was more widely acknowledged. Local films that mix authenticity and heart, like ‘Ali’s Wedding’, are a great start.