“Muriel’s Wedding” is an aesthetically crude ugly-duckling fantasy that is shrewdly designed as a lowbrow audience pleaser.
First-time writer/director P.J. Hogan establishes poor Muriel (Toni Collette) as, in her own words, ‘stupid, fat and useless.’ The overweight 22-year-old high school dropout is savaged by her father (Bill Hunter) for not even being able to type. After a resort vacation where she hooks up with g.f. Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) to do a lip-synched Abba routine in a club, the young ladies move to Sydney.
In a series of unlikely and bizarre plot developments, Rhonda contracts cancer, which provides the chance for Muriel to care for her and thus build some self-worth; her father becomes embroiled in a financial scandal as well as an extramarital affair; and Muriel fulfills at least the externals of her fantasy by marrying a hunky South African swimmer.
Most of the action is played for broad laughs, and Hogan demonstrates the ability to generate them, even if the humor is base and often cruel, making fun of people’s looks and ineptitude. Visual style highlights the crassest elements of middle-class Aussie lifestyle, with an emphasis on vulgar color schemes, bad clothes and touristic consumerism.