Muriel’s Wedding: ABBA Heavy Comedy-Drama With Frocks

Muriel's Wedding
Indeed.

This 1994 Australian production ended up having Feel Good Hit of the Summer type vibes slapped all over it.

The ABBA heavy soundtrack helped there, but the film also features some heartfelt performances and a life-affirming approach to getting shacked up. Lovely!

Muriel’s Wedding is the Film of Your Dreams

P.J Hogan directed Muriel’s Wedding and it starred the fabulous Toni Collette as Muriel.

This was kind of Collette’s big break, she was only 20 at the time. She’s since had an incredible career, been in classics such as Mary and Max (2009), and won all sorts of awards.

Also getting a big break was Rachel Griffiths, starring as Rhonda. She’s also had an excellent career, largely across TV in the likes of Six Feet Under.

It was Griffith’s first film and Collette’s second.

And other than Four Weddings and a Funeral (also from 1994), we can’t think of any other film quite so massively obsessed with marriage.

The plot follows the life of Muriel Heslop. She’s a socially awkward young lady who’s the butt of all jokes with her shallow (and pretty loathable) friends Tania, Cheryl, Janine, and Nicole.

She struggles to get a boyfriend and, to keep herself happy, listens to ABBA and daydreams about a glamorous wedding.

This is in the hope she can escape the town of Porpoise Spit, where her father (a corrupt local politician) is a bit of a bellend to his wife and kids.

Porpoise Spit isn’t real, of course, but is intended to be on the Gold Coast of Australia.

Anyway, a series of events unfold where Muriel heads off on holiday where her no erstwhile friends have legged it. That’s after they dump her out of their group.

So whilst chasing that lot on holiday, she meets Rhonda (Griffiths).

She’s an acquaintance from high school and a larger than life character full of social confidence. And she has the geezers hanging off her.

Despite their different personalities, they hit it off and become fast friends.

It’s at this point the film starts getting its feel good vibes, as Rhonda teaches Muriel how to be herself and all that.

Including a famous scene where the two of them strut their stuff looking fabulous, darling.

But the film goes on to pack in some serious life lessons, too.

Rhonda is wildly popular with men, but this abruptly ends when she’s paralysed due to a tumour in her spine. This leaves her wheelchair bound.

Meanwhile, Muriel pursues her ideal wedding with a handsome gent.

This emerges in the form of an arranged marriage with South African swimmer David Van Arkle (Daniel Lapaine), who’s appalled by Muriel’s smarmy attitude toward proceedings. His family pays her $10,000 for this so he can join Team Australia in the Olympics.

And that’s one of the interesting things about Muriel’s Wedding.

She isn’t portrayed as totally hapless and innocent, instead well-meaning but manipulative and childish in her pursuits.

Even falling out with Rhonda by taking up the daft wedding.

However, Muriel does some serious growing up after opening up properly with her fake husband. And the two decide to part ways amicably.

Events round up in fine style with Rhonda and Muriel driving off into the sunset after making up.

So, yeah, a distinctly early 1990s film. And one that’s gone down in legend as something to lift your spirits. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

We were suddenly reminded of the film the other day and decided to review it. Clearly, the film just has the capacity to pop up in your memory.

Why? Because we bloody love chick flicks, that’s why!

Or something. We dunno, we watched the film ages ago and something about it has a charming appeal.

Rooted in reality and, yet, so distant from it as well. But a life-affirming nod to the joys of youth and making mistakes on your way to adulting.

The Production of Muriel’s Wedding

Here’s Collette in late 1995 to discuss the film, this is just after shredding the weight she gained for the role.

We didn’t know this before typing out this review, but suspected it would be the case. And it didn’t surprise us.

Toni Collette gained some 40 pounds (almost three stone) in seven weeks for the role. She did this as smartly as she could in that situation, talking with a dietician.

But that’s an alarming amount of weight to gain in such a short amount of time.

How do you gain that much weight so quickly? Well, we know Jared Leto, for a 2007 role, gained 67 pounds. To do that he drank microwaved ice cream by the litre, which he mixed with soy sauce and olive oil.

That left him with gout. He lost all the weight again after the production, but has said he’d never do it again. Indeed.

As you can see, Collette was able to lose the 40 pounds relatively quickly. And her natural beauty is more obvious—not that we’d suggest the weight gain was exactly blocking that in the film.

It’s more Muriel was made to be frumpy. The costume crew gave her the most unflattering look possible, with hair unkempt and poorly added makeup.

That’s part of the character arc, as by the end of the film Muriel is accepting of herself and happy to be herself. Rather than dolling up in excess makeup to copy her shallow friends.

And the male director, P.J. Hogan, actually based Muriel’s personality on himself.

But her often selfish actions in the film were based on his sister, who once embezzled $15,000 from her father and legged it to Sydney.

For the director, getting permission to use ABBA’s music was something of a slog. Initially, he was denied access to the hits. With the band’s music so integral to the plot, this was a big dilemma.

He eventually pleaded his case and ABBA agreed, so long as they got a cut of the profits from the film.

Because, you know, the ABBA members must have really, really, really been in financial struggles in 1994 (each member apparently has a net worth of £229 million).

As Muriel’s Wedding ended up being a surprise international hit, it went on to inspire Mamma Mia! the Broadway show. Plus the 2008 film.

Just a reminder on the movie, Pierce Brosnan sings. Ooh yeah.

Anyway, away from that the film was shot in Tweeds Head in New South Wales. This is the “Porpoise Spit” town in the film.

And it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 1994 to rapturous reception… sort of.

Critics were okay with it, bracketing the film into “heartfelt” and “quirky” categories.

And this proved enough to be a crowd pleaser, as off its $9 million budget it raked in $57.5 million worldwide.

And remains ever popular. Good for it and Porpoise Spit (a rhyme there, you see? ABBA must be jealous of our lyrical skills).

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