The box-office bonanza in Australian comedy that began with Strictly Ballroom and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert continues with this exuberantly funny Cinderella story that won an Aussie Oscar for its star, Toni Collette, as well as a best-film trophy. Don’t get too excited. Writer-director P.J. Hogan, in his feature debut, favors the crass humor you find on TV’s Married … With Children, not the dark vein mined in Proof, the directorial debut of Jocelyn Moorhouse, Muriel‘s co-producer and Hogan’s wife.
No matter. Muriel is a crowd pleaser that spices a tired formula with genuine feeling. Collette is a find as Muriel, a misfit who calls herself “stupid, fat and useless” and gets few arguments. When she’s not lip-syncing to Abba, the dateless Muriel tries on bridal gowns. Her friendship with sexy Rhonda (a sizzling turn from newcomer Rachel Griffiths) builds Muriel’s character. So does a surprise marriage to a hunky South African swimmer (Daniel Lapaine) that is not as ideal as Muriel pretends. In the final scenes, when Hogan dares to let his humor turn edgy, Collette’s performance gains in force, and Muriel’s Wedding becomes a date you want to keep.