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Australia 1994
Directed by
P.J. Hogan
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Muriel's Wedding

The film that kick-started the careers of Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths was also written by director Paul J. Hogan (not to be confused with Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan) and is an affectionately raucous, slightly darkly-tinged comedy that has lots of fun with old school Aussie suburban parochialism and Abba music but also manages to bring home a story with real heart.

Muriel (Collette) is the dumpy daughter of Bill (Bill Hunter) and Betty (Jeanie Drynan) Heslop. She lives in the Southern Queensland coastal town of Porpoise Spit with her parents and shiftless siblings, all three of whom are on the dole. A lonely person and a chronic dreamer, her only ambition is to get married and be like the clueless group of so-called friends with whom she desperately identifies. When they tell her that they don’t want her to go with them on a holiday to Hibiscus Island, Muriel steals some money from her parents and goes anyway. There she meets Rhonda (Griffiths), an independent-minded former schoolmate, and her life starts to take a different path,

Similarly to Baz Luhrman's Strictly Ballroom, which was a huge hit 2 years earlier, Muriel’s Wedding cannily mixes humour and pathos but is more precise in its skewering of the Australian vernacular. The fictional setting of Porpoise Spit and the cringe-inducing world of the Heslop family is the best work of such parodising since the Barry MacKenzie films and looks forward to The Castle and the Kath and Kim teleseries. The use of Abba songs as a soundtrack for this kitsch and very daggy way of life is a masterstroke.

Hogan's script is first-class, full of bon mots such as Muriel's recognitions that her life "is as good as an Abba song", and as a director his sense of comic timing is impeccable. But, laughs aside, what makes the film stick is his characters and his ability to develop them as people we recognise and relate to rather than simply use them as opportunities to pull gags out of a hat.  

Toni Collette's performance as the gauche and none-too-bright Muriel is brilliant as is Bill Hunter's wonderful turn as Councillor “Bill The Battler” Heslop, ever-ready to pull a few strings to help out a mate and in return take the odd kick-back. Griffiths and Jeanie Drynan are strong in the support roles whilst the rest of the cast fill out the cast list handsomely.

Classic film comedy always has a touch of sadness (think of pioneers like Chaplin and Keaton) and Muriel’s Wedding effortlessly taps into that vein. We laugh because its funny but we want to watch it again because it’s true.

 

 

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