Muriel's Wedding (1994) (R)

"Muriel's Wedding" feels like a movie that would start out with a cheery song and end with a big wedding. It's a romantic comedy, right? Well, no and no again. This is a movie that resembles "Terms of Endearment" more than it does "While You Were Sleeping" or what we may deem the "typical rom com".
Muriel (Toni Collette) is not a very pretty girl. She is surrounded by blonde bombshells who only care about looks and fashion and she naively thinks of herself as one of their friends. In the movie's first scene she catches a bouquet at a wedding reception and then is forced to hand it over to one of her "friends" because she obviously isn't going to get married anytime soon.
But Muriel really wants to get married, really wants to get married. She is brought up under the notion that all girls aspire to marriage. In this regard, "Muriel's Wedding" is much more about the school of thought that damages young girls and less about the plot...but we must have a plot.
Muriel lives in an odd family. Her father is a political figure whose politics seems less than ethical. Her mother appears to be suffering from some mild mental disorder and all her siblings are in a constant state of lethargy. Raised with the most peculiar set of rules under the most unloving and dis-affectionate of circumstances, stealing seems to be normal in Muriel's mind. This is why she steals a dress and is arrested in the first scene (after the bouquet throwing).
There is so much going on in the family life that it's almost impossible to categorize it here. The father is cheating, the mother is clueless, the brother needs a job, Muriel listens to ABBA, the sister smokes, another sister dances, another brother is "useless", and Muriel's friends don't like her.
Muriel is in need of a job and her father helps her find one, selling makeup. After this, she is told by her friends that they don't want to be seen with her anymore because she embarrasses them. So she does what any girl would do in this scenario: she steals money from her parents and goes on vacation.
While on an island she meets an old highschool friend, Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) and the two bond. They see each other as women who have moved on since highschool, who have grown into their own skin, who have blossomed in their later years....ah, you get the idea.
Muriel wants so desperately for the independence and self-esteem that Rhonda exudes so she lies about her life and her loves.
Things start to turn sour when dad and mom realize that Muriel has run off with their money and they need it back.
"Muriel's Wedding" has a whole lot more going on than just those pieces. There is a whole recurring thought that surrounds Muriel's sexuality and her lack of bedmates. She seems like the most unlucky girl. She's not stereotypically beautiful, she doesn't have a killer figure, she isn't that fun to be around, she is awkward and a half...but she's her.
The movie is about learning about yourself and being happy with yourself, which is such a great and powerful message to give to viewers, but I'm a romantic and I wanted more romance. It's hard to keep your eyes dry when the final scene comes and goes; yet above all "Muriel's Wedding" crosses the threshold from enjoyable to manipulative.
Still, what you expect to happen and what actually happens are two very different things. We expect some sort of Sandra Bullock transformation that makes an ugly ducking into a swan...but we don't get that. We don't get a picturesque, Disney wedding; and we most certainly don't get the humor that we thought we were going to.
There are hilarious moments in the film, but the sadness of it all weighs you down. The situations aren't fun and the characters mostly just seem selfish. Muriel is not a good person, nor is she bad. This protagonist is just average so I applaud Toni Collette for making the character all the more interesting. Rachel Griffiths is the star here and delivers a multi-layered performance.
"Muriel's Wedding" is about the games we are expected to play, the ones we play, and the ones we wish we could play.
It makes you sad and happy. Now, let's listen to some ABBA.

Score: ★★★

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