Muriel's Big Fat Aussie Wedding
They say "Don't judge a book by its cover" and that extends to DVDs and movies to because occasionally a movie will look like it's one sort of thing but be something completely different. Take "Muriel's Wedding", the DVD and posters have a beaming Toni Collette in a wedding dress and bright coloured letters for its title, it looks fun and like a chick flick about a woman's amusing journey to get married, basically it looks like a run of the mill romantic comedy. Yet "Muriel's Wedding" is not your run of the mill romantic comedy, it is a darkly funny movie about life, it is quirky, downbeat and at times unrepentantly bitter yet it is also so entertaining. And one thing it most certainly isn't is some feeble chick flick; this is an intelligent movie with mass appeal.
Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette - Little Miss Sunshine) finds life a struggle in Porpoise Spit a struggle because she is different to most people and finds herself hiding out in her room, listening to ABBA songs and thinking about her wedding day. When the opportunity falls in her lap to get away she does, stealing money from her verbally abusive father to pay for a holiday where she meets old friend Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths - Ned Kelly) who has already escaped Porpoise Spit and lives in Sydney. When time comes to return home Muriel decides to go to Sydney instead and away from all those who kept her down and reinvents herself into a new woman called Mariel.
So as already pointed out, the biggest problem with "Muriel's Wedding" is not the movie itself but the way it has been marketed, the look screams chick flick and the use of ABBA songs cements that feeling, but it is nothing of the sort. In fact "Muriel's Wedding" is a very clever and witty movie which stands out from the crowd because one minute it will give you something quite normal and then the next go against convention. As such when I say that this is a 3 part movie it may sound conventional and the first 2 parts are kind of conventional but the third part turns everything around.
It's because of this flouting of convention that the story of Muriel ends up so much more interesting as it develops into something unpredictable. I say unpredictable as to start with it feels like "Muriel's Wedding" is going to be a tale of an ugly duckling who reinvents herself into a beauty and as we watch Muriel not only get put down by her so called friends but also her family that feeling that she is going to show them how wonderful she really is, is very strong. And ironically there is an element of this to the story but not in the way you expect.
But then after setting up this character of Muriel who is basically put down by those around her we watch as she develops into a different sort of beauty when she escapes Porpoise Spit. Again it's not conventional in the least and the bitter drama which runs through this section as we have drama, disappointment and deep emotional outpourings really takes you aback. That is not the only thing which takes you aback as there is some brilliant offbeat humour as well which intentionally jars with the drama to make for a very different experience. Let's put it this way you will be laughing your head off and in a split second you will be shocked, in many ways mirroring how cruel real life can be.
And then there is the final section which brings everything together but never once in a way you will expect and again we have life being mirrored with happiness shattered by sadness and also the past returning to haunt you. If I am being vague it is intentional because to go into any details is to spoil so much of what is good about "Muriel's Wedding". But for what looks like a chick flick we have a movie which covers themes of running away, self loathing, reinvention, delusion as well as living the dream but at what cost and that is just skimming the surface because every part of "Muriel's Wedding" has a deeper sociological aspect. Yet it's never once heavy, it is quirky and amusing but at the same time real and bitter and it certainly makes it memorable.
What also makes "Muriel's Wedding" memorable is the performance of Toni Collette as whilst Rachel Griffiths and Bill Hunter stand out amongst the supporting performances it is Collette who takes us on this journey. From the way Muriel transforms physically from being dowdy to naturally beautiful to the way her attitude changes whilst masking the deeper emotional conflict eating away at her is simply marvellous. And it is just as marvellous that Collette can have us laughing one minute and then feeling such empathy for her the next.
What this all boils down to is that "Muriel's Wedding" is a brilliant movie, even now 15 years after it was released. But don't be put off by the chick flick look as this is a movie about life and about how happiness can be shattered by sadness and how you can run but you can't hide from yourself.