Muriel’s Wedding
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Once in a while, I like to watch a “before they were famous” film, featuring a popular actor in a breakout role. Muriel’s Wedding, a 1994 Australian piece, features not one but two 20ish actresses who have since starred in many other roles as brilliant, tough, quirky, and eminently watchable characters.

Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) lives in her room full of dreams. She plasters the walls with photos from bridal magazines while she listens to “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia!” and ”Fernando”—all ABBA, all the time. She has little education or social skills, she can’t keep a job, and she looks—well, the mean girls save their best “mean” comments for her over-the-top frumpiness. Her father’s an abusive, low-life politician, her siblings are couch potatoes, and her mother is little more than a slave. You can almost smell the stagnation.

Muriel believes that her only hope is to break out of the stifling little town of Porpoise Spit, Queensland, so she can find a man and have her dream wedding. The big break comes when she meets Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), a sassy, fearless girl who encourages her to redefine herself—and to let her wild side out to play. And that’s when Muriel’s dream starts coming true.

Muriel’s Wedding isn’t the typical ugly-duckling film that you might expect. Australian comedies are known for their quirkiness. One minute, you’ll be watching sophomoric behavior and campy physical humor. The next, you’ll be cheering for the girls to break all the rules. But then the scene changes, and it’s serious: Muriel isn’t that sweet, innocent Cinderella—or even all that likeable. At times, she’s even detestable. And, beyond that, there’s a deeper theme—a painful, tragic commentary on family, society, and class issues. It’s more of a strange, observational, slice-of-life comedy, but expect some reality-check pain to come with the mix.

Toni Collette’s Muriel is a deeply layered and misguided lost soul. Rachel Griffiths’s Rhonda crackles with snark and sexuality, but she never lets you miss the vulnerability under the surface. Bill Hunter and Jeanie Drynan are outstanding in the critical supporting roles as Muriel’s parents. Collette’s performance was nominated for a Golden Globe. All four leads also won Best Actor in their respective categories from the Australian Film Institute, and the movie itself took Best Film.

Muriel’s Wedding is a culturally different kind of film, with odd twists and turns along the way. So if you prefer entertainment that doesn’t fit inside pre-formed boxes, this award-winning Aussie flick just might be your style.

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