“My life’s as good as an ABBA song. It’s as good as Dancing Queen.”
Some twenty-five years ago, one of the most iconic films (with one of the most iconic quotes!) to come out of the Australian film industry hit the big screen in the US. Muriel’s Wedding, released here in Australia in September 1994, caused a bidding war amongst film distributors following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and is one of few Aussie films to have earned a wide theatrical release in America.
Written and directed by Australian filmmaker P.J. Hogan and produced by wife and fellow filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse, the film is centred around our socially awkward heroine, Muriel Heslop who has a desperate ambition to escape her not so special life and dead-end home town, the fictional Porpoise Spit. Due to her oppressive and corrupt bully of a father and being ostracised by her more socially adept ‘friends’, Muriel believes herself unattractive and worthless, she seeks solace in ABBA songs and fantasies where she stars as the bride in her very own glamorous wedding.
Muriel’s life changes for the better when she befriends the carefree, irrepressibly honest Rhonda, who encourages her to take control of her life. Together, Muriel and Rhonda travel to Sydney, where a series of liberating experiences lead Muriel to develop self-esteem.
Muriel’s Wedding has left an indelible mark on Australian popular culture since its release and has stood the test of time, and the story is so layered that it continues to resonate with audiences, warranting continued repeat viewings as well as taking on a new life as a stage musical which was so popular during it’s 2017 and 2019 Australian seasons that it is now being developed to showcase on Broadway in New York.
So, what is it about the film that makes it so enduring?
Oscar nominee Toni Collette who of course had her career launched from playing the titular character in Muriel’s Wedding believes the film still resonates so profoundly with audiences because “I think most people feel like an awkward outsider at some point in their lives,” she explained in an interview this year. “It’s a part of being human. Insecurity amongst other hurdles exists to be overcome. I am realizing audiences were generally comforted by Muriel. It still makes them feel less alone and OK about feeling vulnerable and imperfect in a society that demands so much of us”. Rachel Griffith (also an Oscar nominee!) who played the vibrant Rhonda Epinstalk adds to the argument that she believes the film was ahead of its time, “What was radical at the time was to have a flawed heroine…We now want our female characters three-dimensional and fully lived in.”
Amen Rachel! As well as having a flawed, relatable and utterly endearing protagonist, the film is a feminist masterpiece and more relevant than ever. Muriel and Rhonda rescue themselves and each other, their relationship is organic, honest and mutually affirming. Rhonda and I don’t think you’re terrible Muriel; we think you’re wonderful.
The classic film is a joyful reminder of the power of female friendships.