with Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, Bill Hunter
Written and directed by P.J. Hogan (Miramax Films)
by Laura Kallio
Muriel’s Wedding is one of those films which, if left in the hands of Hollywood, would’ve probably wound up full of corny, canned characters and a predictable plot. Instead, and thankfully, it’s the refreshing style and vision of Australian P.J. Hogan that brings Muriel Heslop to life.
Muriel, an overweight, unemployable ABBA fan who vicariously loses herself in “Dancing Queen” and bridal magazines, is played by Toni Collette. She can do fat and frumpy as well as she can sexy and curvaceous. She lends both to Muriel with this Australian Academy Award winning performance.
Muriel is mired in fat and frump when we meet her, suffering in Porpoise Spit, Australia, a Sydney suburb. Thanks to a father (Bill Hunter) whose idea of motivating his children is insulting them in public, a spacecase for a mother, and a group of friends who rival the shallowest and most peroxided of high school cheerleaders from hell, Muriel possesses zero self-confidence. No matter how desperately she longs to fit in, Muriel keeps winding up labeled useless by her father or an embarrassment by her peers.
Enter Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), a bold, spirited woman who sees beyond Muriel’s physical shortcomings and her painful awkwardness. She scoops Muriel up and carries her off to the big city. With Rhonda’s friendship, Muriel slowly blossoms, exposing the charm and infectious playfulness that had been squelched in Porpoise Spit.
In Sydney, Muriel gets a job and gets asked out on her first date. She screws up occasionally on her journey, confusing idol worship for friendship and the glamour and pomp of weddings with true love, but she emerges an immensely likeable, zany young woman, the kind of character you want to take home with you.
Muriel’s Wedding, at times tragic and moving, is elsewhere hilarious and heartwarming without ever manipulating or stooping to the predictable, mawkish level we’ve, unfortunately, become so used to.