Saturday, August 23, 2014

Before I Die #517: Muriel's Wedding (1994)



This is the 517th film that I've watched out of the 1,149 on the "Before You Die" lists.

Director: P. J. Hogan

You look at the title and movie poster and think "rom com," right? Well, you'd be dead wrong. Muriel's Wedding is immensely more creative and bold than any rom com would or probably could be.

Muriel (acting chameleon Toni Collette in a breakout role) is a sad sack 20-something who embodies the stereotypical "loser," as branded by the youthful social elite of the 1980s and '90s. She is frumpy, socially awkward, and desperately clings to the "cool girls" that she knew from high school. Her home life is dominated by an overbearing, bullying, career-obsessed politician father, and a mother and siblings who have been beaten into apathy about their own lives. Muriel's only solace comes from listening to ABBA songs and dreaming of one day having a monumental wedding ceremony.

Yes, that is, indeed, Toni Collette in the middle, as Muriel.
This is her in the early stages of the film, at her tackiest
and most pathetic, book-ended by her tormentors.
Things start to go along a different path when Muriel decides to abscond with $12,000 of her father's money and treat herself to an island vacation, where she meets a former high school classmate (Juliet Lewis look-alike, Rachel Griffiths). The two decide to cut loose and move to Syndey on the sly, completely reinventing themselves and aiming to have a grand old time. What follows includes literal paralysis, a marriage of convenience to an aspiring Olympic swimmer, friends lost, regained, and then lost again, and a general whirlwind of both admirable and detestable actions and emotions.

The movie never goes quite where you expect it to, though it always remains either humorous, touching, tragic, or a unique combination of the three. I suppose one could lump this into the "chick flick" category easily enough, but it is one that clearly stands out from the rest for its willingness to go to some very dark places in the human mind and soul. Several of the main characters end up showing unexpected complexity and depth, while others induce unforeseen sympathy. These stand out all the more for being in the midst of some of the most garish, tackiest costumes and location sets that one could imagine.

Muriel's Wedding is one-of-a-kind, to be sure. I wouldn't expect everyone to like it, but anyone with a slightly dark or twisted sense of humor should find more than a few things to enjoy in this singular movie. I did.

So that's 517 down. Only 632 more films from the list to see before I die...