Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) is a shy, overweight, ugly duckling living in the Australian seaside resort town of Porpoise Spit – a suburban wonderland of shopping malls, marine parks and holiday homes, where the excessive expectations of her friends and family cause her to take refuge in a dream world of ABBA songs and a search for the Prince Charming who will rescue her from her anonymity.
We first glimpse Muriel catching the bouquet at a friend’s wedding. This event is quickly followed by Muriel being forced to toss the bouquet to someone else (as her chances of catching Mr Right are nil), the bridegroom having sex with a bridesmaid, and Muriel being arrested for shoplifting.
“You’re terrible, Muriel,” comes the envy-tinged statement from her sister, Joanie (Gabby Millgate).
In further quick succession, Muriel’s father, Bill (Bill Hunter), heaps derision on his family and bribes the police, the bride and her bridesmaids take off for a resort without the new husband, Bill stitches up a dodgy land deal with Japanese businessmen, Muriel steals money from her mother and follows the other girls to the local resort of Hibiscus Island where she runs into an old acquaintance, tough little sexpot Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), and together they win a talent contest doing a routine mimicking Muriel’s beloved ABBA.
Muriel and Rhonda run away to Sydney, Rhonda is diagnosed with cancer, and Bill is arrested on corruption charges.
While nursing her wheelchair-bound friend, Muriel (now calling herself ‘Mariel’) answers an advertisement from a handsome South African athlete (Daniel Lapaine), who wants to marry to gain Australian citizenship in exchange for a $10,000 payment. With the prospect of becoming famous as Mrs David Van Arkle and escaping Muriel Heslop forever, it seems Mariel’s dreams have come true.
Mariel finally marries. Her father forgives her. Her friends from Porpoise Spit return to be her bridesmaids. Only Rhonda and Muriel’s mother – who arrives late and is unnoticed – do not join in the celebrations.
But before she can taste the fruits of married life, Mariel is forced back to reality with her mother’s death.
Part Georgy Girl in its upbeat sentiments, part Strictly Ballroom in its satirical sketches of Australian life, the pace and the turn of events of Muriel’s Wedding – many of them delightfully comic – are breathtaking, and the plot twists and turns relentlessly.
At the film’s end, Muriel and Rhonda shout goodbye to the coastal resort town of Porpoise Spit as they leave forever in a taxi. The two Cinderellas are leaving the ball.
David Van Arkle