Semi-Soet is a sweet homegrown romantic comedy from South Africa. While Afrikaans, the film adopts strict Hollywood genre conventions making you think you've seen it all before. You probably have, but this isn't always a bad thing when it comes to romantic comedies, the predictability factor actually adds to the overall enjoyment of the happily ever after.
Romantic comedies emulate that euphoric feeling of love as Ken and Barbie get themselves in various predicaments. Yes, there's a plastic feel... but that's because these romantic situational comedies are easily accessible and somewhat contrived. The genre lends itself to the world of Ally McBeal, where your only option is to, as Adam Sandler would urge, just go with it.
Semi-Soet follows Jaci (Alexander), a workaholic intent on hooking a new wine label in the hopes of rescuing her boutique advertising agency from being bought out by a ruthless businessman known as 'The Jackal'. To match the family value ideals of her prospective client, she inadvertently hires JP (Panagio), her would-be enemy to pose as her fiance on a weekend away in the wine lands.
Semi-Soet fits the mold of a slick Hollywood "romcom" in almost every respect. Up-and-coming South African actress, Anel Alexander, best known for her role in Discreet plays Jaci van Jaarsveld. She's charming, vivacious and instantly likable as the romantic lead. There's plenty of good chemistry shared with her partner-in-crime, the handsome Nico Panagio. The co-leads make a great team and he brings a regal charm and warmth to the proceedings.
Semi-Soet is part The Proposal as the central conceit plays off an unlikely couple pretending to be engaged, and part Couples Retreat as several "couples" and their relationships are put to the test in a weekend away. Alexander and Panagio are supported by Sandra Vaughn and Louw Venter in the role as best friends, who make a delightful comedy pairing with their own mini romance playing out. Then Paul du Toit and Diaan Lawrenson add to the silliness as the love-to-hate rivals.
Director Joshua Rous (Discreet) and D.O.P./editor Nicholas Costaras give this modest little film a slick finish, demonstrating once again that South Africa has the talent and means to make movies of an international standard. It's surprising to learn that Semi-Soet is only their first/second feature film.
The production values are strong, thanks to some pivotal advertising partnerships and Semi-Soet retains its dignity despite a number of overt product placements. The advertising agency angle and on-location wine farm shooting gave the movie more leeway, and apart from some distracting airport terminal billboards, it works!
This is a romantic comedy that doesn't pretend to be anything more than that. The script adds a bit of South African humour and warmth to the formula, which is only slightly diminished by the subtitles. The tone is light-hearted and fun-loving, as expressed in the playful performances, making Semi-Soet easy-going entertainment.
A heartwarming story, a bubbly script, beautiful South African city/landscapes, a good-looking cast and some charming performances make Semi-Soet a winner. Ironically, the title is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the way that it's sweet, only tarnished by its intentional over-reliance on the cliches of the formulaic "romcom".
The bottom line: Bubbly