WHERE does Muriel’s Wedding rank among our best-loved Australian film comedies? Obviously, Crocodile Dundee is hard to toss and, in more recent times, The Castle connected to its audience in ways every filmmaker desires.
But PJ Hogan’s tale of a young ABBA fan dreaming of a better life than her suburban malaise in Porpoise Spit hit the mark.
It introduced some wonderful, enduring actors to us including, of course, leads Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, but also stars such as Dan Wyllie and Matt Day. And it gave us moments and lines that entered our consciousness, including, most obviously, ‘‘You’re terrible, Muriel.’’ Yes, admit it, you’ve said it.
Consequently, there is some logic to Roadshow releasing a 20th-anniversary edition of the movie.
And looking back to 1994, we can only marvel at what a burst of cinematic energy and creativity emerged about that time. In that year both Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert opened within weeks of each other; two years earlier, Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin announced themselves with Strictly Ballroom.
Choosing between those three is a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child (for what it’s worth, mine is . . . actually, better not).
Muriel’s Wedding is arguably the most accessible — with both Priscilla and Ballroom cinematic fantasias in one regard — with themes that connect. Muriel’s connects in more obvious ways, from the broad quest for love and identity to the minutiae of suburban Australian life, as evinced by the Heslop family.
The film still holds up, if only because it is so familiar. The pity is the 20th-anniversary edition (M, Roadshow, 101min, $19.99) doesn’t assess the reasons for its longevity. Perhaps the notion of a 20th-anniversary edition is evidence enough. The best we get is a rambling commentary recorded in 1994 by the director, Hogan, and Muriel herself, Collette. So this disc becomes an exercise in nostalgia, which is enough when looking at the smoke-stained teeth, nervous youth and cautious optimism among the cast and crew interviews.
Muriel’s Wedding is gaudy and funny yet underneath that are some painful scenes. Australia’s most popular filmed comedies have always tended towards the grotesque and caricature, and this film is no different.
Its novelty is in Hogan’s willingness to go for the darker scenes — a mix he didn’t pull off in the recent Mental, also set on the Gold Coast and starring Collette. Jeanie Drynan’s Betty is crucial to Muriel’s Wedding, the unsung hero of the film; she’s so nearly a figure of fun but ultimately balances the raucous comedy.
At a 20th anniversary, we can safely define whether a film is a classic, even if the commemorative DVD doesn’t. Muriel’s Wedding is a classic.
(MA15+) Disney (94min, $36.95)
(M) Warner (86min, $34.95)
(M) Hopscotch (98min, $29.99)