Muriel Heslop is a small town Australian girl, from Porpoise Spit, that just wants to get married. She’s the daughter of an over-bearing local politician, but she’s fat, frumpy, shy and out of work. She is the butt of her cynical ‘friends’ ire and her life is bad. The only thing that makes her happy is her love of ABBA, if only life could be as good as an ABBA song.
Muriel’s Wedding is a sparkly Australian comedy plotting her transition from frump to fame. Toni Colette plays the title role with wit and affection. Support comes from the great and good of the Australian film industry.
Muriel steals money from her father to go on a holiday with the friends that despise her, where they accuse her of stalking her. Bumping into an old school-friend, Rhonda, who is glamorous and popular, she has a soul-mate. Rhonda already has a hatred of Muriel’s tormentors and her confidence brings Muriel along.
The most telling scene in the film is when Muriel and Rhonda are miming to “Waterloo” as Agnetha and Annifrid from ABBA. Muriel begins as a stilted and nervous Agnetha, in white jump suit and blonde wig, looking completely out of place next to Rhonda’s confident Frida. As a fight ensues between her ex-friends over the infidelity of one with another’s now husband, Muriel brightens up and shines, putting on a sassy and sexy show. They win the talent contest as the other girls are finishing their scrap.
When Muriel goes back to Porpoise Spit the theft becomes apparent and she retreats to Sydney and Rhonda. Rhonda is wild and helps Muriel open up, as she changes her name to ‘Mariel’. However, disaster strikes on two fronts as Rhonda suffers from a tumour that stops her from walking and Muriel’s father leaves her mother to be with the local beauty consultant. When Rhonda questions Muriel’s reasons for sticking around and looking after her, she explains how she no longer listens to ABBA songs because:
“My life’s as good as an ABBA song, it’s as good as ‘Dancing Queen’”
Muriel gets an opportunity to help a South African swimmer, David, get Australian citizenship by marrying him. As all that she has ever wanted was a wedding she jumps at the chance, despite the reservations of her athletic beau. Mariel has her old ‘friends’ as bridesmaids and thoroughly enjoys her day but falls out with Rhonda who accuses her of deserting her as she goes back to Porpoise Spit. However, the death of her mother brings her closer to David but she recognises that it is not real and ends the relationship as he becomes genuinely fond of her.
Muriel (again) returns to Porpoise Spit as an elegant and urbane city girl, but only to patch up with her father and take Rhonda back to Sydney. This a genuinely delightful movie picking up on the power of true friendships and still Toni Colette’s finest performance.