HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Iaheto Ah Hi, left, Oscar Kightley, Shimpal Lelisi and Robbie Magasiva star in the comic "Samoan Wedding."
Samoan bachelors get laughs in ‘Wedding’
The Hawaii International Film Festival is, by definition, a hodgepodge of foreign films, some more foreign than others. Part of the fun is seeing how the other half of the world lives. Oh, make that the other 90 percent. But every once in a while there's a film that breaks through on all levels. "Samoan Wedding" could very easily become a legitimate international hit.
Screens: 12:15 p.m. Saturday and opens in theaters islewide on Nov. 10
Place: Dole Cannery
The story is set in the sizable Samoan emigre community of Auckland, New Zealand -- Hawaii audiences will have fun discerning the many differences between Kiwi Samoans and Hawaii Samoans -- where four 30-something buddies are given a challenge that at first seems a snap, and then insurmountable.
They are Michael (Robbie Magasiva), a devilishly handsome bicycle messenger who has made a career out making special deliveries among suburban ladies; Albert (Oscar Kightley, also a co-writer), a mama's boy with a good job who's oblivious to the adoring glances of co-worker Tania (Madeleine Sami); Stanley (Iaheto Ah Hi), an odd duck who has become a legendary instant-messenger and Internet poster using the avatar Tyreeq; and Sefa (Shimpal Lelisi), a good-natured party animal who's in a long-lasting relationship with Leilani (Teuila Blakely) -- which won't last much longer if he doesn't shape up.
Michael's younger brother Sione (Pua Magasiva) is about to tie the knot. But these four buddies, good-natured as they are, have a reputation of creating wedding disasters. So Sione lays down the challenge -- all four must have dates for his wedding. Not just dates, but real girlfriends and committed relationships.
They have to become grownups.
What ensues is remarkably funny, and hilarious in a very non-Hollywood sort of way that makes it seem fresh. Much of the humor can be bawdy at times, but not smutty or mean-spirited.
The center is Albert, whose obviousness to Tania makes him fall mightily for a shallow but sexy emigre nicknamed Princess (Maryjane McKibbin-Schwenke). He's a simmering mountain of repressed emotion. And actor Kightley bears a remarkable resemblance to teenage actor Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe, if Radcliffe were in his mid-30s, bald and Samoan. Uncanny.
Part of the fun is that Samoan-ness isn't a key point, other than a few cultural rituals and a delight in large weddings. What immigrant group isn't like that? It's shrewdly written to find the common denominator in all cultures, which is, essentially, that men hate to grow up and that women have to wait for them.
This is certainly not "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in lava-lava.
Many of the key participants in "Samoan Wedding" are members of the New Zealand comedy troupe Naked Samoans, and their timing and physical comedy are first-rate. They are also fine actors, and it would be a shame if they dropped off the radar after this. The only face likely to be semi-familiar to U.S. audiences Nathaniel Lees, in the small part of the minister.
It's also fascinating how much of middle-class, New Zealand Samoan suburbia revolves around hip-hop, basketball and smack talk. Where are the Jets when we need them?
And then they'll greet each other with "sole!" or "talofa!" and you realize this is a particular cultural group, not a generic one. Or they use "fale" instead of "crib" while smacking, and the cultural connects and disconnects are firing on all thrusters.
In any language, it's all pretty funny. You'll laugh your lava-lava off.