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Sunday, 4 June 2017

Retro Review: Muriel's Wedding (1994)

Muriel's Wedding
Cast: Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, Jeanie Drynan, Sophie Lee, Bill Hunter
Genre: Comedy Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $57 million

Plot: Young Muriel feels unloved and unappreciated in her suburban home, and sets out for Sydney, where she hopes to fulfil her dream of a traditional white wedding. Armed only with her ABBA dance routines and an eagerness to please, she stumbles into an arranged marriage with a hunky South African swimmer. However, her dreams of marriage are soon tested by her best friend, Rhonda falling seriously low 

'An Honest & Sincere Ugly Duckling Turned Swan Effort From Down Under'

Muriel's Wedding is a take on the rom-com formula that is so unlike so many American and British efforts: it definitely has more in common with that Australian - like feel that is in Strictly Ballroom with an execution that is more in line with a comedy that even guys can take to. This is the type of comedy that only the Aussies can pull off so well that if is translated to the UK or America, it just wouldn't resonate so well (henceforth, Paul Hogan's stateside effort, My Best Friend's Wedding). It certainly is very unconventional in contrast to the populist mainstream American rom-coms: the offbeat-ish tone, the odd outsider characters with some of them who are down-to-earth in their charm, in addition to the genuine and heartfelt feel that lies within the story.

Just like with Strictly Ballroom, the main female character is a so-called ugly duckling in Muriel. A former high school dropout and outsider based in Porpoise Spit, who never seemed to fit in, all she ever wanted was to get married and escape her small-town life. Yet the film also has a cast of dislikable characters, Muriel has a terrible & unsupportive sister who goes 'You're terrible, Muriel', an overbearing and difficult father and corrupt politician, through to the horrid trio of girls who chose to oust Muriel out of the group and moody South African swimmer, David. It must hurt to be told you are useless and will never amount to anything.

Yet her encounter with Rhonda becomes the life-changing kick up the backside she needed, who sees through her flaws and has belief in her to achieve great things in life, - and so with that in mind, Muriel's transformation, both physically and in growing in confidence and stature, takes shape.

The film is both funny and moving, all at the same time; despite being a comedy of sorts, there are moments where we see Muriel go through her highs, as well as lows. Paul Hogan's script succeeds in being both amusing and charming, as well as emotionally heart-wrenching and sad. 

Most of her actions come across as being malicious, rather than selfish in its actual intent and though the film does descend to bleakness, there is still a feel-good, hearty warmness that it evokes. Despite the highs, Muriel is a rather complex character; she does and say the right thing and wrong thing and still comes across as being honest and doesn't lose a part of herself that makes her unique, amongst the other people she surrounds herself with. She is one of the protagonist characters that we end up cheering for to get her happy ending, and not least because that though us humans are flawed and never perfect, she still has a good heart.

For every good light-hearted scene, comes a tragic scene and vice-versa involving Muriel, her father, mother, Muriel's friend and a message about dignity, self-worth and that marriage doesn't equate to a perfect life. Though at first, Muriel believes that a wedding (to anyone) will bring ultimate happiness & is the solution to all of life's problems, she realises that through her experiences along the way, that is not always the case.

Muriel's Wedding did stupendously well in Australia - yet overseas marketing of the movie as a so-called chick flick rom-com meant the studio and distribution company did a disservice to it. The performances are stellar, including those of star Toni Collette, who has since done well for herself and the film also accomplishes in getting the tonal balance just right: it's not too dour and deep, yet also it's not wacky and silly in the comedy.

Final Verdict:

A dramedy about acceptance of who you are, about appearances being deceptive and that marriage isn't the be-all, end-all thing, Muriel's Wedding could've gone down the comedy path, altogether. The fact that it manages to delve a little deeper in the characterisations with warmth, pathos, sincerity and honesty and without becoming cliched, makes it a worthy hit.

Alongside Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom, Muriel's Wedding was another smash hit coming out of Oz from the 1990s. As a film, this is a gem and one that goes far deeper in the complexities than Strictly Ballroom and in Paul Hogan, he isn't afraid of showing both the positives and negatives of the situations, at first hand. 

If you are a fan of ABBA, rom-coms, or movies that deal with the humanistic side of things in general that are also on the kitsch- side, this is highly recommended.


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