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D: Jeffrey Walker / 110m

Cast: Osamah Sami, Don Hany, Helana Sawires, Robert Rabiah, Khaled Khalafalla, Asal Shenaveh, Rodney Afif, Ghazi Alkinani, Majid Shokor, Shayan Salehian, Ryan Corr

Ali (Sami) and his family live in Australia, but are originally from Iraq. His father (Hany) is the cleric of the local mosque, and wants Ali to become a doctor. Ali isn’t so sure that’s going to happen as he doesn’t have a natural aptitude for medicine and struggles with his studies; when he only gets 68.5 on his university entrance exam, it confirms what he already knows. However, because he doesn’t want to disappoint his father, Ali keeps the result to himself, but when another student boasts of getting a high score, Ali tells everyone he scored even higher. And when he learns that the girl he’s attracted to, Dianne (Sawires), has also passed, Ali determines to attend the university anyway. Meanwhile, Ali’s parents reveal that they are arranging a bride for him (now that he’s on his way to being a successful doctor), and are making plans for their upcoming wedding. As Ali fights to keep his secret from being revealed, he has to find a way of getting out of the arranged marriage, and ensuring that he and Dianne can be together – even though she’s Lebanese…

Based on Sami’s own experiences, Ali’s Wedding is something of a first: a Muslim romantic comedy that manages to be respectful of Muslim traditions and his family’s transplanted way of life, while also acknowledging that his generation may not be as “wedded” to those traditions as elder generations would expect them to be. It’s a movie that avoids the usual condemnation that you’d expect when young love rears its socially unacceptable head and challenges the status quo, or entrenched religious sensibilities, and part of the movie’s charm is that Sami, along with co-writer Andrew Knight, recognises the validity of both points of view. So there’s no demonising of the Muslim religion, no stereotypical characterisations, and no deciding if one side is “better” than the other. Arguments are made for both sides of the cultural divide, and it’s left to the viewer to decide which one they agree with most. That said, Sami’s unwavering fairness to both sides should be enough, as he makes sure that the movie’s nominal bad guy, a would-be usurper of his father’s role of cleric, is undone by an outburst of arrogant pride.

Having set the tone for the movie’s cultural and religious backdrop, Sami is free to build a lightweight yet likeable romance out of Ali’s relationship with Dianne, and to pepper proceedings with the kind of knowing humour that wouldn’t necessarily work outside of the movie’s framework. Hence we have Saddam The Musical (all true), and an abortive trip to the US to stage the show (the principal cast are all returned home in handcuffs). And that’s without a tractor ride that ends in disaster, and a joke about community service that is both beautifully timed and arrives out of the blue. Walker lets the narrative breathe, and doesn’t rush things, allowing the material and the performances to progress naturally and to good effect. As himself, Sami has a mischievous twinkle in his eye that at times is infectiously winning, and he’s supported by a great cast who all contribute greatly to the movie’s likeability (though Hany’s Aussie accent slips through from time to time, which can be off-putting). There are themes surrounding trust and respect, community and togetherness that are played out with a directness and simplicity that enhance the material, and though the ending is never in doubt, there’s still an awful lot of fun to be had in getting there.

Rating: 8/10 – an agreeable and amusing romantic comedy, Ali’s Wedding does what all the best rom-coms do, and puts its hero through the ringer before giving him a chance at coming up trumps; the romance between Ali and Dianne is entirely credible, as are the various inter-relationships within families and the wider Muslim community, making this an unexpected, but modestly vital, success.