It’s a rare thing indeed these days to walk out of a romantic comedy, more popularly referred to as rom-coms, with your head held high, a skip in your step and a strong sense that the world is a wonderful place.
Too often you are left with a nagging feeling that more could have been done, that the script is deficient, the actors unequal to the task or simply lacking in chemistry, and that if this is the face of love in the 21st century, it needs to seriously consider a nip and a tuck and a stringent regime of Botox injections.
The sheer delight of Ali’s Wedding, directed by Jeffrey Walker to a finely-balanced, near-effortless screenplay by Osama Sami (with Andrew Knight), and it is a delight in every gloriously positive sense of the word, is that Australia’s first Muslim rom-com possesses nary a moment when you think something else, something better, could have been done.
That is not to say it is a perfect piece of cinema, but it is so close to garnering that high accolade and so suffused with a warm, rich, funny sense of life’s complications and beguiling possibilities, that it’s near impossible not to leave the cinema believing that pretty much anything in life can be achieved, staggeringly high, intractable expectations by family and society be damned.
This is largely due to the highly autobiographical nature of the narrative which recounts the quirky story of Osama Sami life story which is winningly abundant in the kind of expectation-bucking events and spirit that you would expect of someone always destined to follow his own path.
Destined he may have been but Sami, who plays the role of chief protagonist, Ali, the lovestruck son Iraqi refugee and senior cleric of the local mosque, Mehdi (Don Hany), has to battle against some fairly significant currents to make his own way in the world, in this case the suburbs of Melbourne.
It’s not his family that is the problem necessarily.
Certainly, his mother (Frances Duca) is dead set on him becoming a doctor and when he announces to the world that he has successfully passed his entry exam to Melbourne University with a score of 96.4 – beating his arch-nemesis, the unceasingly ambitious Luay (Shayan Salehian); his father Sayeed (Majid Shokor) performs a similar function for Mehdi – beaten only by the secret object of his considerable affection Dianne (Helen Sawires), she embraces the idea of a medical professional in the family with a comedic intensity that is a pleasure to watch in action.
No, the real problem for Ali is Ali himself, pushed down by real and imagined expectations by society and the community, the sort of pressures (real and imagined) that anyone who has had a high-profile parent of any stripe and grown up in a community of fairly conservative expectations will relate to immediately.
It is that immense relatability, even as Sami does an exemplary job of casting a positive, highly-authentic spotlight on the Muslim community in Australia, that is key to the many delights of this uniformly enjoyable film.
In the guise of a finely-wrought rom-com, Sami explores the many ways in which the Muslim community is wholly different from the wider society around it while being driven by many of the same imperatives that any parent who wants the best for their child or anyone longing for the very best life can bring them, will recognise in an instant.
In other words, while the world he inhabits has many unique characteristics and customs, many of which are given an affectionately comedic slant in ways that only a true insider can sympathetically manage, it is also universally human, something that came to me quite profoundly when I realised his life as a cleric’s son mirrored my own as a Christian minister’s son near exactly.
And, of course, love is as universal as it gets, and Ali’s Wedding uses this to genuinely heart-warming effect, recognising that though the setting may change – in this case the tug of war between Ali’s arranged marriage to Yomna (Maha Wilson) and his driving need to win the hand of Dianne, herself beset by familial pressures – that the impetus to be with the one you love is something that anyone with a beating heart will know and understand.
It is the near universality of human experience that gives Ali’s Wedding, which could have quite easily been just another quirky, lightweight rom-com, though still I suspect a damn good one even so, such substance and likeable intensity alongside the steady stream of well-delivered quips and wry observations.
This is a film that doesn’t simply want to provide laughs, though it does that exceptionally well, or give us a warm-and-fuzzy ain’t love grand feeling, though again it exceeds there in remarkably touching ways, but it wants to say something meaningful.
The genius is that is does this near subversively, eschewing even a hint of lecturing polemic in favour of simply showing us what life is really like in the Muslim community, but more particularly in the life one earnest young man who doesn’t quite fit the mold and likely never will.
It grants Ali’s Wedding some heft and emotional resonance, in turn gifting us one of the most sweet, funny, well-rounded and remarkably affecting films in quite some time, one that doesn’t even hint at cliche or tropes in its whimsically serious quest to prove to us that, even in real life and against some fairly insurmountable odds, love can actually conquer all.