One of the most annoying cliches in Hollywood romantic comedies consists of an ugly duckling being transformed into beauty by the end of the film. Even the slightest variation of this cliche is bound to look refreshing to those tired of formulas. Naturally, such refreshments are very rare in modern Hollywood, and when they come, they are usually produced outside USA. Muriel's Wedding, 1994 Australian comedy directed by P.J. Hogan, is one of such films.
Heroine of the film is Muriel Heslop (played by Toni Collette), young, overweight and not particularly bright woman who spends her life in Porpoise Spit, small town in Northern Australia that is paradise for visiting tourists and hell for those who must stay there all year long. Muriel's father Bill (played by Bill Hunter) is corrupt politician and unfaithful husband whose children turned into slackers and couch potatoes. Muriel is one of them - ignored by family and shunned by the clique of former high school mates whom she considers to be friends. Out of work and never having a date in her whole life, she finds solace in "Abba" songs and dreams of marriage. One day, when her "friends" shun her for the last time by going together on tropical vacation, Muriel decides to steals her father's money and go there by herself. Accidental meeting with former high school outcast Rhonda (played by Rachel Griffiths) would give new direction to her life. Free-spirited Rhonda becomes her best friend and two of them travel to Sydney where Muriel tries to make her dreams come true.
Muriel's Wedding gives the spin to the Hollywood's "ugly duckling" cliche simply by being realistic. Title character is not going to be magically transformed into superbeauty by cheap make-over. She is ugly and she remains ugly until the end, not only in physical but also in psychological sense - she is not only stupid, but selfish and more than able to create misery to people around herself. Yet, writer and director Hogan manages to create viewer's sympathy to this pathetic character by confronting her with even uglier world of corruption, hypocrisy and cruelty, best embodied in the oppressive and hopeless atmosphere of small town. Compared to all that, Muriel, even with all her shortcomings, looks like a true hero, and her rebellion looks like a worthy cause. Unfortunately, Hogan was unable to keep his satirical edge throughout the whole movie and somewhere in the middle darkness of his humour is replaced by the cheap melodrama. The switch is not only too abrupt and unnatural, but the characters also begin to act illogically until the bitter-sweet ending.
Muriel's Wedding, hailed as one of the "cool" Australian comedies of its time, might be overrated, but it is still example of good film making. Hogan was fortunate to employ talents of excellent cast. His leading lady Toni Colette spared no effort to make her character as unattractive as possible (gaining weight that few of her Hollywood colleagues would dare to do), yet she shines in the role that would facilitate her career in Hollywood. Rachel Griffiths is also good in the very demanding role of Rhonda. Hogan also cared a lot about sights and sounds in this film. In the latter he was aided by the efforts of Peter Best, as well as "Abba" songs who act like some kind of Greek chorus, most notably in the excellent scene of "Waterloo" lip-synching. In the end, even those who don't care about 1970s pop or annoying Hollywood cliches would probably find Muriel's Wedding to be entertaining experience.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on August 21st 2002)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/236-muriel-s-wedding?language=en-US