Friday, April 18, 2014

Muriel's Wedding


I must apologize to all my fans out there in the dark for the silence of the last few days. This living off the land is much harder than I had foreseen and I've found that I have to spend hours combing the beach for whelks and stray coconuts in order to even begin to put a balanced meal on the table. I would never have signed up for this Celebrity Survivor gig if I knew what it was going to mean for my skin and hair. I must admit that I have lost a little weight and have firmer thighs than I did several weeks ago. Ginger Grant, with whom I am sharing my hut, has proven quite the little whiz at primitive technology. She's managed to create a functional hair dryer from bamboo, driftwood, and an old cable spool. She even made a half way decent risotto for dinner the other night. We flavored it quite nicely with a bottle of Lesterene Shrimp and Avocado facial cleanser that I had managed to smuggle in the folds of my silk kimono.

Not only do we have to survive under the glare of the klieg lights and the uncompromising gaze of the camera, the producers keep throwing 'challenges' at us to see how well we can cooperate with each other. Recently, we had to construct rafts out of found objects and cross the lagoon to an islet where the crew had set out a lovely buffet of pineapple, croissants and lobster bisque on steam tables. Our team, the Pele's Players, had no problem beating our rivals, the Freaky Tikis as we had Belle Poitrine on our side and we were able to use her as an additional floatation device. I've known Belle for years and I always knew her ample endowments would come in handy some day.

I finally had some free time this afternoon, so I have fired up the solar powered laptop and DVD player for a film break. As I am isolated in tropical splendor, but yearning to get out, I decided to seek out a film heroine with a somewhat similar problem. Flipping through my stack of discs, I came across the 1994 film, Muriel's Wedding and thought that might be just the thing. Muriel's Wedding is one of a 1990s cycle of comedy/dramas from Australia which were popularized by such directors as Baz Luhrmann, Stephan Elliot and P. J. Hogan. It includes such other films as Strictly Ballroom, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Hotel de Love. These films use elements of pop culture, a 70s music sensibility, bright colors, outsized characters, and a satirical look at Australian society and manners to create a sort of alternate universe in which experience and emotion are heightened in a sort of Warner Brother's cartoon way. Muriel's Wedding is a bit different from its counterparts in that it's less of a farcical comedy and has much darker elements and tragic plot happenings under its sunny surface.

The film is the story of Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette in only her second film), an overweight ugly duckling from the provincial Australian beach town of Porpoise Spit. She has a nasty, overbearing father (Bill Hunter) who takes his own failures in life out on his family, a well meaning mother (Jeanie Drynan) who is desperately in need of Prozac and a rest cure, and various siblings who are little more than post-adolescent lumps of flesh. She spends her time losing herself in fantasies of wonderful weddings, fueled by ABBA records. Rejected by the girls her own age for being fat and uncool and practically unemployable, Muriel snaps one day, embezzles the family savings and heads off on a tropical spring break holiday following her so-called friends. Here, she meets another reject from back home, Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), who doesn't feel the need to fit in and prefers to be herself. Muriel finally meets a true friend and, with the help of a little musical interlude to ABBA's Waterloo, she decides to reinvent herself and she follows Rhonda to Sydney.

Calling herself Mariel, she finds work in a video store, meets an appropriate young man (Matt Day), and seems to be settling in to a new routine as a functional young person. She can't get rid of her dream of the fancy white wedding and when a situation presents itself where she can have what she wants, complete with gorgeous bridegroom (Daniel Lapaine), she has to sort out what's really important in her life. Like all humans she makes some wrong choices, some right choices, and eventually learns to distinguish fantasy from reality in living.

The strength of the movie is in its unexpected plotting and in its daring juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy. A sequence of pure sex farce, involving several naked men, a leaking beanbag chair, and recalcitrant underwear ends abruptly with a medical disaster. Bad things happen to good characters. Bad characters are shown to be more confused than malevolent. Muriel, herself, is a flawed person whom it's hard to actually like as she makes rotten decisions. Not once could I predict where the film was taking me. These twists and turns are a bit aggravating, though. A lot of story elements are left, as in life, without resolution or the happy end that the film's surface promises.

The two lead actresses, both of whom have gone on to successful Hollywood careers, are sensational. Neither Toni Collette or Rachel Griffiths is afraid to explore their characters darker corners or nastier emotions and they have a great chemistry in their scenes together. One almost wishes that they would end up together as the requisite romantic pair (but it's not that kind of a film.) Their future is very uncertain as the movie ends. Bill Hunter, one of Australia's finer character actors (and a fixture in films of this genre) is so self-deluded as Muriel's megalomaniacal failure of a father that their scenes together are both ribald and painful. The only weak link in the cast is Lapaine, who seems to have gotten the part due to his ability to carry off a Speedo rather than any thespian ability.

The film has the distinct visual look of this sort of Australian comedy with garish costumes, overdone make-up, and a bright palette of primary colors. It's helped along by its up tempo soundtrack of peppy 70s pop (mainly ABBA). No one will ever regard Waterloo or I do, I do, I do, I do in quite the same way again. It also uses some visual devices, especially a flying bridal bouquet to help delineate time and mood and to very much give the film a traditional three act structure.

The film is worth watching for its idiosyncrasies and for the performances of Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths. Those familiar with their later work should enjoy seeing their Australian roots. Director Hogan went to Hollywood a few years later and made the Julia Roberts' film My Best Friend's Wedding which has some similar themes and elements and fans of that film will be interested in where those came from.

Shoplifted jungle print. Liquid screaming orgasm. ABBA impersonations. Gratuitous wedding adultery. Bridal photo albums. Naked American sailors. Spinal rehab. Gratuitous South African politics. Burnt back yard.

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