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Superficial Wedding is a good start for director Hogan

Daniel Lapaine and Toni Collette in Muriel's Wedding.

Muriel's Wedding

Written and directed by P.J. Hogan.

Starring Toni Collette, Bill Hunter, Rachel Griffiths, and Jeanie Drynan.

Sony Nickelodeon.

By Teresa Esser
Staff Reporter

Muriel's Wedding is Australian director P. J. Hogan's first film. Although steeped in the new tradition of the low-budget, big-hit Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert (from which this movie steals scenes shamelessly), Hogan has succeeded in producing a small, good movie that entertains without challenging and forces audiences to look again at that most hyped-up of all historical traditions: the wedding.

Muriel (Toni Collette) begins the film as an overweight loser from Queensland, a woman trapped by a dysfunctional family, an apathetic neighborhood, and a clique of beautiful "best friends." The movie opens with a shot of a beautiful friend's wedding, where one of the clique members is shown having an affair with the groom. The movie moves that fast: credits, wedding, affair. Before the scandalous couple have time to emerge from their private room the ugly misfit Muriel is taken into custody by the police. Apparently, she never paid for her leopard-print dress.

When watching Muriel's Wedding it is important to keep in mind that the community of Porpoise Spit, Australia, where Muriel lives, is extremely different from the culture here at MIT. Instead of juggling four projects at once and complaining "I'm so hosed," the residents of Queensland lament their unemployment and console each other with: "No worries, mate."

Hogan establishes his characters rather quickly. The evil clique is made up of Barbie look-alikes who criticize Muriel for not wearing frosted lipstick. Muriel is clumsy, overweight and "useless," hopelessly ostracized from the inner circle by her unemployment and consequent failure to follow fashion. "I've got a job," Muriel tells them, referring to a cosmetics sales position offered by her father's mistress. "It's not your clothes," the friends retort, it's you."

Crushed, Muriel steals money from her parents and buys a holiday at the same resort where the clique is staying. Once there she meets up with a friend from high school (Rachel Griffiths) whose noble character is symbolized by her short black hair and indifference toward fashion.

The two women celebrate their independence from the neurosis of Porpoise Spit by running away to Sydney, where they get jobs, meet men, and have the time of their lives. "When I was living in Porpoise Spit I used to sit in my room all day and listen to Abba songs," Muriel says. "Since I've come to Sydney, I haven't listened to Abba at all."

The point of this movie is very simple: in order to escape from insecurity and stagnant immobility one must rebel against the conventions held by beautiful people, cut one's hair, buy a new wardrobe, and forge a new life on one's own. If theft and dishonesty are the only ways that these ends can by achieved, so much the better.

This movie is far too contrived. None of the scenes appear natural, instead, they look like Hogan has manipulated the gray shades of everyday experience in order to come up with a cast of characters that are either too black, too white, too good, or too obviously evil. Although Muriel's Wedding does an excellent job of conveying the attitudes and economic realities of small Australian towns, it fails to capture the subtle interludes of conversation that make characters seem like real people.

For example, the character of Muriel's mother (Jeanie Drynan) is not developed at all. She is shown once standing in her kitchen, lost in a zombie-like trance, and then again in a restaurant, oblivious to the presence of her husband's mistress. It is not until Muriel ignores her at her own wedding and Muriel's father moves in with his mistress that we see this woman come to life, and then she kills herself.

Muriel's father (Bill Hunter) is another stock character, as is her celebrity immigrant husband (Daniel Lapaine). Hogan may as well have used cardboard cutouts to play their roles, writing "philandering politician" on one and "Olympic diver" on the other. Their lives do not figure into the plot of the movie; what matters is what they can do for Muriel. In the end they each contribute about ten grand.

If audience members can identify with Muriel's quest for beauty and popularity, they might really enjoy watching this movie. If not, it's at least interesting to watch the trials and tribulations of people in another culture. P. J. Hogan did a good job with this first film, and for that he deserves a pot of beer in the local tavern. The film does not, however, merit any awards, honors, or serious contemplation. It is a superficial film about superficial topics and the vague notion of getting things started.