Like the first snowflake of an eventual avalanche, it’s a seemingly small untruth that starts a whole ball of catastrophe rolling in Ali’s Wedding: expected to go to medical school by his proud but somewhat domineering parents, Iraqi-Australian Ali (Osamah Sami) does the only thing he can in the moment: he lies about his entrance exam results.
His folks are ecstatic, especially his father, prominent Imam Mahdi (Don Hany); a medical student son not only brings much prestige to the family, it ups Ali’s status as an eligible bachelor, and soon Ali is being shopped around as husband material. This doesn’t jibe well with our hero’s own romantic intentions, as he’s fallen for Dianne (Helana Sawires), an Egyptian-Australian medical student he met while sneaking into classes (funny how one lie leads to another, isn’t it?). Events, as they tend to do, escalate.
Billed as Australia’s first Muslim rom-com (it isn’t; director Peter Andrikidis and writer Alex Lykos beat ’em to it in 2015 with Alex & Eve, albeit that was a Greek/Muslim rom-com), Ali’s Wedding is based on the real life experiences of star and co-writer Osamah Shah, as detailed in his book, Good Muslim Boy. At the heart of the story is the old tradition vs freedom tango, and that’s an especially interesting binary when placed in Australia’s Muslim diaspora. Things got particularly complicated when Ali, fumbling the subtle social code he’s only nominally aware of, accidentally consents to an arranged marriage, putting a pretty serious clock on his obligation vs desire dilemma.
There’s a happy ending waiting at the end of all this tomfoolery (that’s not a spoiler, it’s a genre convention) and director Jeffrey Walker (Dance Academy) guides us there with a light touch and a bright palette. He takes longer than he should, though – at 110 minutes, Ali’s Wedding is pushing it, timewise. A comedy near the two hour mark wants to be consistently, almost constantly funny. This one, while fairly engaging, tends to hover around the “fond” smile” end of the meter, rather than burying the belly laugh needle.
Strong performances and likable characters save the day, though, with Hany and newcomer Sawires particularly standing out. Ali’s Wedding is an immensely charming offering, but falls short of being a new classic.