If truth is stranger than fiction, then Osamah Sami’s truth is stranger than most. Billed as Australia’s first Muslim rom-com, ALI’S WEDDING is based on the life of Sami and his father, partly recalled in Sami’s book, Good Muslim Boy. Complete self-aware, the film plays with genre tropes and rejects them at the same time, making for an outing that is impossible to dislike.
For Ali (played by Sami), pleasing his cleric father (Don Hany) is something he genuinely wants to do. However, despite his best intentions, he can’t seem to make the right decisions. After failing to get the marks needed to enter medical school, he fakes success and accepts the community praise that goes along with it. The trouble is, Ali also wants to marry the woman of his dreams, an Australian born Muslim named Dianne (Helana Sawires), a fellow medical student. Alas, he is betrothed to another – and his complex web of lies is starting to unravel.
In an era when large pockets of the mainstream media are desperate to tell you that the Muslim communities of the world are all one thing, ALI’S WEDDING is rejection of this. Mostly set around the lives and families of a Melbourne mosque, there’s some brilliant comedy focused on the line that immigrant families straddle between ‘fitting in’ and retaining their culture. This is perhaps best encapsulated by Ali’s mechanic brother, who responds to his father’s disapproval of swearing by claiming “This is my job, dad. I have to fuckin’ speak Australian.”
More than this, the film plays around with the discomfort Ali and his friends and siblings have with their parents traditions, even if they are always respectful of them. Sami and co-writer Andrew Knight gently mock the absurdity of the arranged marriage tea ceremony, or the posturing of community leaders at a mosque. Yet there’s also a universality that anyone who was ever dragged to family function, or to any religious service, can relate to.
Director Jeffrey Walker and Sami have cast their film well, mixing some recognisable faces in with some terrific new discoveries. As Ali points out in the film, “Hollywood always needs people like us to play terrorists,” so it’s terrific to see a cast that almost entirely of Middle Eastern descent playing such a diverse group of characters. Sami is a naturally confident comedic lead, and his scenes opposite Hany demonstrate a dramatic range as well.
Beautifully shot by veteran cinematographer Don McAlpine, including what is possibly his first and only tractor chase, the photography showcases a different side of the country. Rahel Romahn (Down Under) is a comedic standout in the supporting cast, while Sawires gives a star-making performance in her debut feature.
ALI’S WEDDING might have the trappings of a conventional comedy, but mocks them as much as uses them. Most rom-coms have a single “running to the airport” climax, for example, where this film has dozens of them. With comedy ranging from broad to self-referential, if you aren’t outright laughing then you’ll probably have a sloppy grin on your face the whole time. Except those bits where your reaching for the tissue box, as ALI’S WEDDING tugs at the heartstrings as readily as it tickles the funny bone. If this isn’t huge at the local box office, there’s no justice.
ALI’S WEDDING is playing at the Sydney Film Festival 2017. It releases in Australia on 31 August