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Muriel finds life in Porpoise Spit, Australia dull and spends her days alone in her room listening to Abba music and dreaming of her wedding day. Slight problem, Muriel has never had a date. Then she steals some money to go on a tropical vacation, meets a wacky friend, changes her name to Mariel, and turns her world upside down. Written by
Toni Collette wants to have "Muriel's Wedding" in this 1994 Australian film, directed and written by P.J. Hogan. Muriel is a social outcast living with her dysfunctional family and fantasizing about a better life for herself, as exemplified in Abba music. She wants the excitement the music has, the fun, the prettiness, the glamor. Most of all, she wants a fabulous wedding. Her dreadful father (Bill Hunter) constantly puts her down and constantly elevates himself. He's a councilman. He asks a friend, Deirdre, who has a cosmetics company like Mary Kay, to give Muriel work. He gives Muriel a blank check so she can buy what she needs and start selling. Muriel takes the blank check to the bank, cleans out her father's bank account and heads for a resort where four girls from the "in crowd" - who don't want Muriel around - have gone. There she meets Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) and starts to have some of the fun she's dreamed about. From there, she moves to Sydney and takes a job in a video store, rooming with Rhonda.
All of Muriel's dreams eventually come true, but she loses what makes her special and what she has always devalued - herself.
This is such a splendid film, made all the more magnificent by the performance of one of the truly great actresses of this century, Toni Collette. Collette belongs right up there with Streep, Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchette. She's not there because she's a character actress who disappears into her roles so that she's unrecognizable from film to film. Here she embodies Muriel - overweight, badly dressed, with low self-esteem who, in the process of finding out who she is, emerges as an attractive person who knows what's important and what it is she really wants.
"Muriel's Wedding" is not a raucous comedy. It has many layers - ridiculous characters, such as her supposed vain friends, and then it turns around and gives you a complicated character like Rhonda, who loves life and lives it with complete abandon until tragedy strikes. Griffiths gives a beautiful performance. Hunter, the man we loved to hate in "Strictly Ballroom," is even more hateful here, but in the end, seems to have learned his lessons too.
Muriel learns what we all learn - life isn't what goes on on the outside, it's what happens inside. What's valuable isn't the wedding dress and all the pomp, but the souls and love involved and the real meaning of marriage. Then you're a Dancing Queen and you can really feel joy.
Such a great film, made possible by Collette and Hogan's excellent script and direction. Don't miss it.
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