Sione's Wedding is about four best mates: ladies' man Michael (Robbie Magasiva) , party boy Sefa (Shimpal Lelisi), good boy Stanley (Iaheto Ah Hi), and weird Albert (Oscar Kightley). They're in their 30s, but act like overgrown 16-year-olds.
When Michael asks his brother Sione what's wrong with him, Sione laments, "I fell in love, you dick!"
Sick of being embarrassed by their juvenile antics, the local pastor bans the boys from Sione's wedding. Michael and his mates are only allowed to go if they can find themselves legitimate girlfriends.
Set in inner city Auckland's Polynesian churches, hip hop clubs, suburban sleep-outs and basketball courts, it's a boys' story: lovable ratbags get into trouble together, tell dirty jokes, get drunk, cause trouble, nurse hangovers and generally avoid responsibility ... in other words they're PI Peter Pans.
Despite a self-professed ability to pull women, it's their inability to get them to stick around that they are desperately trying to fix, and this provides the set-up for the film's humour.
The lead actors are from hit stage comedy group The Naked Samoans, the same crew behind iconic tv series bro'Town. From stage to animation to the big screen, the male personas and storylines are reassuringly familiar and full of colour and humour. The real life shared experiences of this tight group of Pacific island actors is mirrored on the big screen, and this is what makes Sione's Wedding so convincing:
Albert: "Et tu, Brutus?"
Sefa: "What are you speaking Māori for?"
This particular take on Samoan identity (male, urban, second generation Kiwi) also caused some friction back in the islands. I was in Samoa when the cast and producer John Barnett arrived for the film's premiere. Sione's Wedding is one of the few feature films ever made about Samoans, and there was a large turnout.
Maryjane Mckibbin-Schwenke, who plays Princess (the gorgeous cousin from Samoa whose presence drives the four bros to distraction), is a former Miss Samoa. Samoans love beauty queens but they're also devout churchgoers. Princess's "nude" scene with Michael caused a bit of a shock for some of the locals and many confronted Mckibbin-Schwenke afterwards, asking how she could show her naked body for everyone around the world to see! Mckibbin-Scwenke had to explain that a body double was used, and that she was only "acting".
The script — James Griffin teamed up with Naked Samoan scribe Oscar Kightley — spins a South Pacific twist on a tried and true Hollywood formula, and the film duck rocks along in the assured hands of director Chris Graham (in his first feature, after making his mark directing music videos for local hip hop artists).
Stateside critics praised Sione's fresh take on a largely predictable story. Kevin Thomas in The LA Times described it as a "rowdy, bawdy New Zealand comedy that perceptively depicts the universal with the particular in an amusing, affectionate way ... consistently imaginative, revealing and funny."
Despite the big ups, the film didn't achieve box office purchase in the United States. But it found an east coast Australian audience and broke some attendance records when it opened in cinemas throughout New Zealand in March 2006. It was New Zealand's top-selling DVD on release that year and still [as of 2021] sits in the top 10 NZ films for local box office.
The NZ Herald gave the film five stars, while Metro said "break out the champagne! The NZ film industry has finally succeeded in producing a successful romantic comedy".
Makerita Urale has directed documentaries (Qantas award-winner Children of the Revolution) and dramas (TV's Tala Pasifika). These days she leads the Pacific Arts team at Creative New Zealand.