In 1994 my friend Meranda went on a tour across Europe. It was a brithday gift to herself; she just turned twenty-one and wanted to see the world. On the tour she met this brown haired boy named Steve. He was from Australia, so suddenly we became interested in anything Australian. We were lucky that year; Australia was suddenly everywhere. The Simpsons went there (with Marge trying to order coffee, but the waiter keeps repeating back to her "Beer!") Pricilla Queen of the Desert came out, we loved the movie. I especially loved it when Australian Lizzy Gardiner won for Best Costume Design, she wore a dress (thanks wikipedia) made of two hundred and fifty-four American Express gold cards. Gold meets gold!
However, my favorite movie of that era (and Australian movie period) is Muriel's Wedding.
Warning!!! I'll be posting spoilers about the film, so don't say you weren't warned!!!
Muriel Heslop (played so incredibly well by Toni Collette) is what many would call a sad sack. She wears dumpy clothes, her hair is frumpy, and most of all she doesn't have a boyfriend. This makes her the target of ridicule from her "friends" who make fun of her all the time. She lives at home with her family, but her father Bill Heslop (Bill Hunter) has never gotten over losing an election: "I was nearly in State Government. Four million votes I needed. No one knew who won for three days 'till the postal vote came in. For three days I was almost there... You reap what you sow. You'd think I'd learn that growing up on a farm. You reap what you sow." He reminds his family of this all the time, along with Muriel's mom Betty who looks so incredibly sad that you want to make her laugh so she can at least smile.
Muriel's "Friends" take off to Hibiscus Island on a friend's honeymoon after the so called friend finds out that her husband cheated on her. Muriel is excluded because she's no fun. However, our Muriel decides to go follow them and steals money from her dad. She goes off to Hibiscus Island. However, instead of bonding with the girls, she bonds with a girl she knew back home called Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) Rhoda is fun, kind, and wants to have fun. She accepts Muriel for who she is. Not only do they have a wonderful time together, they also deliver a kick ass redition of "Waterloo" by ABBA during a lipsynching contest.
Realizing she was in trouble at home, Muriel goes to join Rhonda in Sydney. She works in a video store and finds herself dating for the first time. Because that's the thing about Muriel: She wants to get married. She wants the whole nine yards: the white dress, the wedding march, the veil, everything. At her job she watches Princess Diana get married all day long on video. She drools over brides magazines. A husband would make her feel better about herself. He would make her happy. In the imortal words of Jerry Maguire, a husband would complete her. Yet after several tragedies, Muriel realizes that she can only make herself happy. She learns that, in the words of Susan Browne, you cannot make another human being your art.
I saw Muriel's Wedding twice in the theater and own it on DVD. I also had the soundtrack for a long time (I finally gave it away when I saw it available on Itunes) The thing you have to learn about Muriel is she's fond of Abba. Heck, she loves those Swedes. One of the best lines of the movie is something she tells Rhonda: "When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I've met you and moved to Sydney, I haven't listened to one Abba song. That's because my life is as good as an Abba song. It's as good as Dancing Queen." High praise indeed!
My favorite part of the film however is the last ten minutes. I don't want to give too much away, but Muriel finally crosses that burning bridge and sees her dad at home. He orders her to stay and take care of the family. She tells him no. She's not doing the dysfunctional waltz anymore. While heading out of town, the camera focuses on Muriel's face. She is beautiful. She's not the dumpy girl in the beginning. She has gained wisdom. She is going to have the time of her life. See that girl. Watch that scene. Dig it, the dancing queen.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries