Top End Wedding delights US movie goers

"That was hilarious," a middle-aged Mormon woman said to me, wiping tears from her eyes as we lined up for the bathroom.

We had just walked out of a cinema at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in the USA after the world premiere of Australian film Top End Wedding.

Top End Wedding stars Miranda Tapsell. Photo: John Platt

Top End Wedding stars Miranda Tapsell. Photo: John Platt

The romantic comedy follows successful Sydney lawyer Lauren and her fiance Ned who have just 10 days to find the mother of the bride, who has gone missing in the NT.

The group of artsy film lovers had dusted snowflakes from their coats before filing into the cinema, about an hour's drive from Salt Lake City, to watch the movie, shot in one of the hottest places on Earth.

"Man, I would love to live there," the woman drawled, as the line to the bathroom inched towards its destination.

"Pardon?" I replied, in some confusion.

This remark was coming from a woman who lived at the picturesque foothills of the United States' largest ski resort, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics, where you feel like you are walking around in a real-life postcard.

She was talking about Katherine, where the scorching sun chases you into the shade and a "winter" day involves a permanently sweaty top lip.

It was confusing because she was probably the first person I had heard speak of Katherine with yearning in their voice and a sparkle in their eyes - if you discount the people who already live there and enjoy its charms.

I spent a little over a year working in the remote town, about 320 kilometres south-east of Darwin, as a 21-year-old cadet journalist.

My friends were jetting off to Melbourne and Sydney to start their careers and it was safe to say that nobody had put the NT at the top of their bucket list.

It is unsurprising that many Australians have a skewed view of the Territory, as most of the stories that flood into our capital cities detail the horror, despair and inequity that plague the region.

Isolated from everyone I knew and loved, I spent much of my first week in Katherine crying and working out how long it would take me to save enough money to get back to Brisbane for a weekend. It would have taken almost two week's wages for a plane ticket, not to mention 18 hours of travel.

Down the gorge, Miranda Tapsell stars in Top End Wedding. Picture: Goalpost Pictures.

Down the gorge, Miranda Tapsell stars in Top End Wedding. Picture: Goalpost Pictures.

But it did not take long to fall in love with Katherine and its cast of cheeky, playful and hilarious characters.

It was a true delight to be sitting in at one of the world's most acclaimed independent film festivals, Sundance, watching the beautiful and quirky parts of Indigenous and Territory culture played out on the big screen.

The love letter to the NT that is Top End Wedding joined a contingent of six Australian films that premiered at Sundance this year.

The festival, started by Robert Redford, has a history of launching Australian hits such as Casting JonBenet (2017), Animal Kingdom (2010) and Wolf Creek (2005) and introducing Australian creatives to the US market.

The film, co-written, produced and starring Deadly Award-winning Indigenous actress Miranda Tapsell, showcases the sheer natural beauty of the NT.

"It's been a labour of love for me and having the opportunity to showcase the Northern Territory to an international audience, through a different lens, at such a prestigious festival, makes this such a rewarding experience," Tapsell said.

On set, the extras wait for their turn in front of the movie camera.

On set, the extras wait for their turn in front of the movie camera.

The Top End as a whole is a comedy writer's dream. There are people swimming in crocodile-infested waters, jackaroos and jillaroos clasping tinnies of beer while they draft cattle, and locals celebrating the end of the working week with backyard fireworks - for no particular reason.

Those things, combined with "Territory time" - when your party starts at 6pm but no one arrives until 11pm, or you arrange a 12-hour road trip and your ride doesn't show - provide the perfect canvas for a comedy of errors-style flick.

The raucous and frequent laughter at the Utah screening defied the cliche that American audiences favour obvious humour.

It was however, a risk to premiere the homegrown film at Sundance, as the script was laden with Territory colloquialisms and Indigenous slang.

But the "deadly" and "she'll be right" attitude of the NT translated perfectly onto the screen in Top End Wedding - and the American audiences lapped it up.

While the movie was clearly a hit with the woman in the bathroom, critics gave mixed reviews to the "predictable" but "charming" feature.

Describing it as a "crowd-pleaser that fits the wedding film mould", Screen International said it was a bright and breezy flick but also "as formulaic as its tale of whirlwind nuptials, family dysfunction and finding one's place in the world".

Uproxx's Vince Mancini found it pretty corny, but conceded like most romantic comedies, "you don't see Top End Wedding because of the groundbreaking storytelling".

"There's a cultural richness to it, a wonder in the sound of the languages being spoken, and a beauty of place that you won't find in many movies," he wrote.

So while the film may not be a genre-defining cinematic revolution, most people left the cinema with a smile on their face.

Other women eavesdropping during my bathroom tete-a-tete emerged from their cubicles brimming with questions about life in the Top End after spending two hours in the cinema developing a crush on the Australian outback.

Places such as Katherine are the types of hidden gems that are under-appreciated by most of Australia but captivating to Americans. So even though an Indigenous rom-com is not the kind of movie you would immediately expect to leave an audience in the heart of Mormon country in stitches, it was a hit.

The 1986 film Crocodile Dundee ignited the US fascination with Australian humour and our majestic outback.

Top End Wedding has renewed that love affair - at least for the people of Utah, home of the Great Salt Lake.

Will it help the rest of Australia fall in love with the Territory, too?

Top End Wedding will open in Australian cinemas on May 2.

Top En Wedding star Miranda Tappsall. Photo: