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...
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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
When the girls are all on holiday/honeymoon, one of throws a red drink in Muriel's face, clearly splashing the brim of her hat. When the film next cuts back to her, the hat is spotless again. See more »
Coming-of-age story that is both comic and touching
One of the hallmarks, and one of the strengths, of the Australian cinema, is originality, the ability to produce films quite different from anything in the Hollywood or British mainstream. This ability dates back to the days of "Walkabout", "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and "Crocodile Dundee", and the offbeat comedy "Muriel's Wedding" from 1994 falls within the same tradition. It also falls within the recent Australian tradition of films satirising life in the provinces while retaining a certain affection for those that live there. ("Sweetie" and "Opal Dreams" are other examples). The film was written and directed by Paul J. Hogan, not to be confused with his namesake Paul Hogan of "Crocodile Dundee" fame.
The main character, Muriel Heslop, is a young woman in her early twenties from the fictitious Queensland seaside town of Porpoise Spit. Her life is dominated by her tyrannical father Bill, an ambitious and corrupt local politician, whose family seem crushed by the weight of his expectations. Muriel's mother Betty is a downtrodden, subservient wife and her siblings are lazy, unambitious and permanently unemployed, with no interests in life other than watching television. She herself is overweight, naïve and socially gauche; she is mocked by her contemporaries, even those she considers her friends, for her weight, her lack of social graces, her lack of fashion sense, and her obsession with the music of ABBA, regarded as hopelessly untrendy by the mid-nineties. (Several ABBA songs feature on the soundtrack). Although she has never had a serious boyfriend, her one great ambition is for a glamorous wedding.
Muriel's life changes when, while on holiday, she makes a friend named Rhonda who, unlike her Porpoise Spit contemporaries, is prepared to accept Muriel for what she is. Muriel leaves her family to set up house in Sydney with Rhonda and eventually achieves her dream of a big white wedding, although the circumstances are rather unusual. Muriel's husband is David, a handsome young South African swimmer, whom she hardly knows but who needs an Australian passport in order to swim for his adopted country in the Olympics. (This plot line suggests that the film was originally conceived several years earlier, when South Africa was banned from international sport because of apartheid).
Toni Collette was relatively unknown in 1994, but this was the part that first brought her to international attention, and she gives an excellent performance, making Muriel an appealing heroine despite her social awkwardness. There are some other good performances, such as from Bill Hunter as Muriel's autocratic father, but I was less taken by Rachel Griffiths as Rhonda, even though I have admired Griffiths in other films such as "Hilary and Jackie". Although she is supposed to be a likable character, Muriel's one true friend who loves her for what she is and who copes bravely with illness and disability, I found the foul-mouthed, promiscuous Rhonda a bit too abrasive to be sympathetic.
Although "Muriel's Wedding" is a comedy, and in places a very funny one, it also deals with some serious themes, and avoids Hollywood sentiment. (Hollywood would doubtless have made Muriel slimmer and prettier, would given greater prominence to David and would have turned the film into a rom-com in which the two young people end up falling madly in love). It is essentially a coming-of-age story, what in German would be called a "Bildungsroman". It is the story of the heroine's discovery of self-confidence rather than self-loathing, of how she learns to accept herself for what she is. It is notable that for much of the film she insists on being called "Mariel", only to revert to "Muriel" by the end. Behind the humour and the satire the film is often touching and poignant. 7/10
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