So there’s this movie called Muriel’s Wedding and it broke my heart. Toni Collette stars as the titular character Muriel, and she broke my heart. ABBA is played a lot, and that’s when the movie doesn’t break my heart. I really, truly adored this movie, because it paints such a clear look at insecurity that it’s hard to watch but so rewarding by the film’s end.
Meet Muriel: she’s insecure, lonely, stuck in a family that abuses her pushover nature, in a group of friends that use her as the butt of their jokes and then abandon her, and in a position in life where everyone is waiting for her to fail. Instead of succumbing to their predictions she takes a vacation, meets a friend who will change her life, and focuses on her own happiness as much as she can. However, much of her happiness rides on the idea of finding a man to marry, and that’s the notion she needs to break free from before the film ends so she can find inner peace.
Let me tell you, it’s a tough journey she takes. She’s consumed with self-doubt, thinks love will be the cure to all of her problems, and looks to her mother as a prime example of what she fears becoming, despite her mother (another character who broke my heart) being her sole supporter in life. People who are sad don’t always make smart choices; they make impulsive ones to try and cure the sadness sooner. Sometimes the hardest moments to watch on film are the ones that dig a little too deep and hit a little too close to home, the moments that we shy away from in our own lives. There are plenty of moments like this in Muriel’s Wedding: whether it’s when Muriel is dumped by her friends and can’t keep herself from breaking down in front of them; the image of her mother wearing beat up old shoes and wincing her way through a grocery store; Muriel’s failed attempt at hooking up with a stranger; or Muriel crying in a wedding dress that she had been trying on in order to play make believe. The film doesn’t allow its characters to hide, and it doesn’t make every sad moment easily digestible; there are a lot of ugly moments in this film, ones that aren’t easy to stomach, and it’s one of the reasons the film resonates because that’s life.
Muriel’s trajectory is finding a sense of self-happiness, and it’s hard won. She has to go through a sham of a marriage, defy her family’s wishes, and watch her mother crumble under her own weight of despair that she’s been holding in for decades. She gets to see the what ifs and sees her potential future, and actively tries to change it.
There’s a moment in the film where Muriel and her friend lip-sync to ABBA’s “Waterloo” that strikes me as one of the most pivotal moments in the film. Muriel doesn’t think of herself as attractive and isn’t comfortable in her own skin until she has someone by her side. Her ex-friends, who are more stereotypically pretty, sit in the audience, and yet it’s Muriel who catches your eye because her face is lit up in happiness for having a close friend. Even more interesting is watching the girls in the audience fight as their faces scrunch up and their looks fade away, letting us have a good look at what vanity, jealousy and bitterness can do to someone. Muriel is beautiful in her white jump suit and blonde wig because she’s finally allowing herself to have fun and embrace who she is.
We all have our insecurities and self-doubts, and Muriel’s Wedding refuses to shy away from them, which makes her ultimate success, however slight, all the more poignant.