Muriel's Wedding [1994]

Ever since the late '70s when the Australian New Wave was in full surge, Down Under directors have delivered movies that often hit you like news from another planet. Offbeat characters, weird narrative twists, and a tart mixture of laughs and catastrophe--this is the juice that fuels such flicks as Proof, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Strictly Ballroom, Heavenly Creatures, and most certainly Muriel's Wedding. Directed by P.J. Hogan (who would go on to helm the Hollywood hit My Best Friend's Wedding), this little gem follows tradition by featuring an authentic misfit: Muriel (Toni Collette), a great overweight horse of a girl obsessed with getting married and the music of ABBA. Appropriately, we first meet Muriel at a wedding, all trussed up in a leopardskin number she's boosted for the occasion. When her snotty peers insist that she give up the bridal bouquet to someone who might actually get hitched, when one of the guests turns out to be a clerk in the very store where Muriel ripped off her outfit--you gotta laugh, she's such an unmitigated mess. A loser, her philandering politician father (Bill Hunter) calls her--along with his doormat wife and his other couch-potato offspring. But this movie's no exercise in geek-bashing. As Muriel takes up with feisty Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) and moves from Porpoise Spit to the big city, her good-hearted grin and zest for life draw us in despite hilarious gaffes and mishaps. (Making out with a boy for the first time, Muriel suddenly finds herself awash in styrofoam: the oaf has unzipped the beanbag chair instead of her skin-tight leather pants.) Muriel's Wedding covers territory Hollywood would banish from a comedy--Rhonda's cancer, the suicide of Muriel's mother, a marriage of convenience to an arrogant athlete--yet, like its heroine, it never loses its sense of humor, its will to move on to whatever good thing might happen next. Everyone in the idiosyncratic cast is terrific, but it's Toni Collette's Dancing Queen who makes Muriel's Wedding a cinematic celebration you won't forget. --Kathleen Murphy

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