Cheryl Rose is getting married.
This news SHOULD be the most exciting day in the young woman's life...there's one problem.
Jill Rose has spent years preparing for her daughter's wedding, and that's precisely the problem for Cheryl. Nary a week goes by that her mother, an avid and expert garage saler, hasn't picked up a "precious" morsel for the wedding she knows her daughter will have some day.
Cheryl doesn't want to tell her mom, because she doesn't want the happiest day of her life turned into a "Second Hand Wedding."
In its North American premiere at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, "Second Hand Wedding" is proving to be a crowd favorite with its delightful mix of romantic comedy, resonant family drama and slight quirkiness.
In his feature film directing debut, New Zealander Paul Murphy has fashioned a sweet, funny tale of one woman's effort to have the wedding she wants while dealing with the family she has. Murphy, who has served as a key grip on such Hollywood flicks as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and, most recently "The Great Raid," has assembled a stellar ensemble cast for his Crystal Heart Award winning film.
Shot on location in New Zealand, "Second Hand Wedding" exudes a small-town charm not unlike any number of American-made indies that focus on small-town life. While the accents may be different, the behaviors and quirks, attitudes and desires are all the same. Murphy, along with script writers Linda Niccol and Nick Ward paint a delightful portrait of a town where everyone seems to know everyone and garage sales have become an art form.
Cheryl (Holly Shanahan, "Power Rangers Jungle Fury") is a delightful young woman who loves her parents but can't help but be embarrassed by her mother's obsessive thriftiness courtesy of a childhood of humiliations suffered as a result.
Why doesn't Cheryl just tell her mom the truth? Mom (Geraldine Brophy, "The Water Horse") means well and is so clearly devoted to her family that she simply doesn't have the heart to hurt her feelings. She shares the news with her father (Patrick Wilson, "Rude Awakenings"), who had already learned it from the groom (Ryan O'Kane, "The Hot House").
Can you see where "Second Hand Wedding" is going?
Yep, you can.
"Second Hand Wedding" is short on surprises, but long on satisfaction. It goes without saying that eventually mom IS going to find out, and it's most likely not going to be pretty.
It goes without saying that mother and daughter conflicts will develop, the dream wedding will experience some sort of obstacle and, in the end, all will live happily ever after.
While "Second Hand Wedding" is rather predictable, it's the ensemble cast combined with the authentic smalltown life and the film's witty dialogue that make the film such a delightful view.
Brophy is the perfect mom, a hilarious twist of embarrassing quirks and complete and uttery sincerity at home and in her job as a deputy principal at a local school. Watching Brophy, it's easy to understand Cheryl's dilemma. Despite those obsessions with thriftiness, there's never a moment where you can doubt that she deeply loves her daughter and, as the film winds its way towards resolution, I dare say it's impossible to not watch Brophy and Shanahan without shedding a tear even while chuckling.
Likewise, Shanahan is spot-on a joy as the young woman who dreams of garage sale trolls and childhood traumas but comes to realize the depth of her mother's sacrifices for her. Many actresses would've been tempted to play Cheryl as, shall I say, a tad bitchy. Shanahan wisely never allows Cheryl to become a caricature of childhood trauma, instead constantly riding that fine line between family devotion and that familiar drive to become more independent.
While these two women clearly dominate "Second Hand Wedding," Murphy has assembled a fine supporting cast, most notably O'Kane, who gives a finely nuanced performance vacillating between strength and humor and tenderness as the groom to be. Patrick Wilson, Jed Brophy and the rest of the ensemble cast also add a nice spark throughout the film. The film also includes a cameo appearance by singer John Rowles, said to be New Zealand's Tom Jones. While American audiences aren't as likely to be familiar with Rowles, his appearances fits the film nicely and he plays it well.
There are moments in "Second Hand Wedding" that don't quite resonate, for example an ongoing bit involving a garage sale sign stealer whose motives are never explained until film's end. So much of the film feels authentic and human that this "bit" feels a bit tacked on, though the way Murphy resolves it works without disrupting the film. Similarly, while it works for Jill to have a garage sale companion throughout the film, the relationship between the two feels empty in relation to the rest of the film.
Tech credits, especially given the film's modest budget, are quite strong. Plan 9 adds a perfectly complementary original score, and the cinematography of Richard Bluck nicely captures small town life without ever feeling too obvious.
With his feature film directing debut, Paul Murphy has created an entertaining and heartfelt film that should easily resonate with American audiences from coast-to-coast. Backed by a strong ensemble cast, Murphy's "Second Hand Wedding" is easily one of the highlights of the 2008 Heartland Film Festival. One of the winners of the festival's Crystal Heart Award, "Second Hand Wedding" is currently in theatres in New Zealand and seeking distribution in North America.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic