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‘Muriel’s Wedding’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 17, 1995

There's simply no nice way of putting it: At first sight, Muriel, the eponymous heroine of "Muriel's Wedding," is a loser. It's not just that she's a big toothy gal with an extra chin and a weakness for leopard skin. Or that she can't seem to breathe with her mouth closed, has no marketable skills and spends most of her life creating schlock daydreams set to Abba songs. Brainless, coarse, socially inept -- Muriel is all of these. But the word that best describes her is the one that her father throws at her: useless.

Though Muriel (Toni Collette) would like to think otherwise, it's not just her father who sees her as an embarrassment. Nearly everyone in her home town of Porpoise Spit, Australia, has come to the same conclusion, including her so-called best friends, who dismiss her from their circle. The thing is, you can't really blame them.

"Muriel's Wedding" seems to suggest that losers are just as entitled to a slice of happiness as anyone else. Obviously, the toughest job that Australian writer-director P.J. Hogan has set for himself is getting the audience to embrace this pathetic blob -- and not simply because she is lacking in attractiveness, intelligence and grace. Collette's performance is strong and fearless, but Muriel's innermost feelings are as vapid and off-putting as the pop songs she listens to.

All Muriel really wants to do is get married -- or rather, have a wedding. The man is irrelevant; it's the dress, the ceremony and the long walk down the aisle that matter. She wants to be a princess -- if only for a day -- and as a dress rehearsal, she hits every bridal shop in Sydney, trying on gowns and, afterward, filing away snapshots of them in a wedding album she keeps hidden under her bed.

It's a pretty depressing picture that Hogan presents -- even after, by some strange twist of fate, Muriel's dream does come true. Yet Hogan seems skittish about going all the way with the darker side of his material. Clearly, he wants us to see the tragedy in Muriel's circumstances, but he also encourages us to view her as a buffoon. As a result, the movie exists somewhere between comedy and tragedy. It's a bright, buoyant comedy about a very sad young woman -- and, regrettably, the mix just doesn't work.

Muriel's Wedding is rated R.

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