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Beauty in the Movies: Muriel’s Wedding

This week for Beauty in the Movies we look at Muriel’s Wedding, a film that falls into the sadly rare comedy/drama category and is as heartbreaking as it is hysterical.

Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) is unemployed, obsessed with weddings, and living with her parents in her hometown of Porpoise Spit Australia. All the Heslop children still live at home under constant verbal assault from their overbearing and often cruel politician father (Bill Hunter). Muriel still hangs out with the popular girls from her high school. They treat her like trash, call her fat, and berate her for embarrassing them with her bad clothes, love of 70s music (specifically ABBA), and general un-coolness (this is the 90s after all!). When they plan a getaway and tell her they don’t want her to come, Muriel uses a blank check from her mother and heads off to the same resort alone.

Once at the resort she coincidentally meets Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), another friend from high school who helps her stand-up to the bitchy girls who scorned her. Rhonda and Muriel become fast friends and move to Sydney where Muriel vows to start a whole new life, but escaping the family she left in Porpoise Spit might be harder than she thought. When Rhonda is forced to suddenly change her partying ways, it’s the true test of her and Muriel’s friendship.

Australians really have a knack for creating hysterical over-the-top characters who can also be deeply empathetic. Films like this one, as well as Strictly Ballroom and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, give us overblown humor mixed in with dark subjects, but the characters feel honest so the two integrate as naturally as they do in all our lives. I get sick of movies that are all sad or all happy, everyone is either living in expensive apartments having wacky romances or everyone is dying of cancer and losing children, it’s just too much sometimes.

A great portion of the success of this film belongs to Toni Collette. A lesser actress couldn’t make Muriel, whose actions are often morally questionable, such a sympathetic character. Muriel is obsessed with getting married, not because she wants to fall in love, but because she wants to show everyone that she has changed—that she is a success. Muriel is an incredibly selfish character, she lies, she steals and she doesn’t seem to care much about any of it, of course that’s the point of the movie, but if the audience didn’t care about the character despite her many flaws, it wouldn’t mean anything when she finally realizes the error of her ways.

Muriel’s father is abusive, he doesn’t hit his children, but he might as well because the verbal abuse he heaps on his whole family (including his wife who he seems to have pushed to the edge of sanity) does more damage to them in the long run. Sadly, it’s all too common a thing to see in families, and it’s not talked about very often. Muriel’s real success is that she escapes from her prolonged adolescence and stops believing that she has to run away from who she is.

Despite what you might think, Muriel’s Wedding is not a romantic comedy, it’s dark, and despite its incredible humor, it’s depressing at times. This film completely breaks the mold in terms of what we think films about weddings are supposed to be. It’s not about two people overcoming obstacles to be together, or about living happily ever after, it’s about life, both the bad and the good. In this story there isn’t a white knight, or a perfect guy, because often in life the real person who saves you isn’t the one who comes sweeping in for the rescue, but the one who will sit beside you through anything—and make you laugh about it.

If you’re still not sold, this film is worth seeing for the awesome ABBA filled soundtrack and dance number too. Give ABBA a chance, it’s worth it, really.

Muriel's Wedding

Muriel’s Wedding by justinez featuring bridal shoes

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Beauty in the Movies: Mamma Mia!

I’m keeping things light this week since it has been so hot out it’s hard for me to form actual thoughts, and also because the heat has been making me think of walking around in airy Grecian dresses. So, I bring you the classic ABBA masterpiece, Mamma Mia!, based on the wildly successful West End musical by ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson.


People seem to either love or hate this movie. I get the hate, it’s overly fluffy and cute plus there is a lot of squealing and Pierce Brosnan sings which can be a little disturbing for some, but I think that if you just sit back, relax and not expect anything more than pure, silly, entertainment, you won’t be disappointed by this film.

On the beautiful Greek Island of Kalokairi, Donna (Meryl Streep) owns a small hotel where she lives with her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who is about to marry her boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper), but before she does she needs to know who her father is. After finding her mother’s diary from the year she was born, she narrows down the possibilities to three men, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård, father of Alexander Skarsgård, Eric from True Blood). Without her mother knowing, she sends wedding invitations to her three prospective dads. When the three men turn up on the island Sophie finds herself confused that she can’t tell who her father is on sight. The men are also confused once they realize Donna wasn’t the one who sent the invitations and has no idea that they’re there. Craziness ensues, helped out by Donna’s two over the top friends and members of her former band Donna and The Dynamos, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you can imagine how it plays out—with a whole lot of singing and dancing and sparkly costumes too.

Alright, I’ll confess, I love musicals. I was a musical theater geek, I know all the words to Oliver!, Annie, South Pacific, Gypsy and dozens of others. Give me a few box steps and some killer harmonies and I am a happy girl. I know there are people who get all cringe-y when people break into song on film, so if you’re one of them, this movie is not for you—but I still suggest you see West Side Story and My Fair Lady, because those are both so much more than just musicals and you’re missing out, really. While I’m making confessions, I also have to admit that I love ABBA. I know they get written off as goofy disco pop, but those guys have written some great songs with some great arrangements, there is no shame in liking ABBA, just own it.

I also love Meryl Streep, I mean everyone loves her obviously, but she is just so good. She is great to watch in this movie because you can tell she is having a blast. Why shouldn’t she get to have some musical fun? The woman is not only an astounding dramatic actress, but she has great comedic timing and is just a joy to watch all the time. Actually everyone in this film seems to be having a great time, that’s what I like to see in my movie musicals, that is kind of the point isn’t it?

Poor Pierce Brosnan got slammed by critics for his singing, which I honestly don’t think was so bad. I’m not going to say he sounds Springsteen-ish, because I’m sure I’ll get slammed for that, but I think if he wasn’t James Bond people wouldn’t have been so hard on him—the dude was having fun OK? I mean really, it’s an ABBA musical, why the hell not?

The whole cast is good, Christine Baranski could do this in her sleep, and she probably does. Amanda Seyfried is wonderfully good at being starry-eyed and sweet, and though Julie Walters is pretty wacky and a bit crude as Rosie, she is also Mrs. Weasley, so she can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

There is nothing upsetting or deeply dramatic about this movie, yet it still manages to have a big heart. The relationship between mother and daughter, Sophie’s search for answers, and Donna’s struggle with accepting Sophie’s marriage are all very real issues that women deal with all the time, there’s just some ABBA music added in for kicks. The film showcases strong women, from when Tanya sings Does your Mother Know? to one of the young men on the island in a reversal of the original ABBA song, to Sophie realizing that she doesn’t need a father to walk her down the aisle, not when she has her mother there. It is a film made mostly for women and by women too (the director is fellow female Phyllida Lloyd), and it caught a lot of flack for it. It’s not just a romantic comedy, it deals with bigger issues and is more entertaining than most of the romantic comedies that have come out recently. Yes, the basis of the film is romance and love, but also self discovery, family, regret, and friendship.

Despite breaking the record for the highest grossing movie-musical of all time, bumping Grease out of the #1 spot, Mamma Mia! wasn’t so well received by critics. I’m not saying every woman loved this film, but I can’t help but find it interesting that with the success at the box office, it was still so slammed by critics. Check out this article published by the Alliance of Women Film Journalist and written by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen who is the Director of the Center for the Study of Women In Television and Film. Here is a fun statistic from the article, 77% of film critics for major publications are male, and many large news publications do not feature any female critics, that might explain why so many films written for, or by, or about women often fail to receive critical acclaim. There are men who are great film critics who I truly believe look at the film for its overall value (Roger Ebert I’m looking at you!) but with a percentage gap like that, it seems impossible that there isn’t some bias going on. If I were a film critic I can tell you right now that films with excessive violence, or hour-long chase scenes wouldn’t receive such great reviews from me, but I know I’m biased, and I’m not a film critic. I’m sure there are male critics that were squirming in their seats watching this, because it’s not a film made for them, so we can’t expect them all to enjoy it. The more you look at the statistics the more depressing the film industry seems, women go to see a lot of movies, but they don’t get to make them or write about them, and that stinks, food for thought.

If you feel like dressing like a Greek goddess during these hot, humid, nights, you can embrace your inner Aphrodite with the looks below. Have a great weekend kids, stay cool!

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