There’s circuitous route to how I got the the main subject of this post, but it’ll just take a minute. For reasons I won’t get into I’ve had to pay a little more attention to my teen’s online life. One thing I’ve learned: she will reblog nearly any pro-woman, pro-gay, pro-transgender, pro-feminism, pro-choice, anti-rape post that crosses her path on tumblr, and she will call out female friends who say they are not feminists. I’ve started compiling a list of “feminist films for teens,” so we can watch some together and with any luck even talk about them a bit. (I’ll post it later, but feel free to share any thoughts.) As I’ve been building up my Netflix queue and reading through lists, I’ve also come across lots of movies that I loved as a young woman, to watch again.
Muriel’s Wedding holds up well, largely because of its two lead actresses, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette. Both have proven in later films and television (“Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” for example) that they can really act. So although Entertainment Weekly was right in saying that the movie is flawed because we never really see who Muriel is, underneath, because she’s Toni Collette we instinctively feel there must be something of depth and value there.
There’s far less dancing in the movie than I remembered. I watched it thinking I would see several scenes of lip synching to Abba. There’s one, and it’s fabulous, but apparently I merged my own joyful apartment-bound Saturday nights with my memory of the movie. I would have sworn the girls performed Fernando together, but I guess that was me and my roommate instead.
I don’t know what happens to Muriel at about 1:10, but that’s where her transformation starts. Somehow at 1:33 she’s already a different person, even if she needs the rest of the movie to really feel it.
As so often happens when I watch movies from my past, I can’t help noticing my sympathy shift from daughters to mothers. When Rachel Griffiths, as Rhonda, tells her mom “I love you but you drive me nuts” as she leaves home, I think of my own teen daughter at least as much as I think of my mom, a line of strong, slightly(!) demanding women who love each other like crazy but need their space. If I raise my daughters well, there will only be room for one XX human in this house someday. And Muriel’s mom — well, I’m not sure what I think of that plot twist, but the small, cowed life she lives must be one big reason why Muriel runs like hell in the other direction, however stupidly.
I would watch this one with Violet, if she wanted, but I don’t know if the ABBA obsession would be enough to carry her through, and the idea that a wedding is life’s great prize might not be so much wrongheaded to her as utterly foreign.
Is it “feminist”? I have to put that word in quotes because I don’t know what that means as an adjective describing a movie. It passes the Bechdel test, women in the movie can be sexual without being slutty, Muriel is overweight without it being the focus of her character or the movie: in other words, women can talk and have bodies on their own terms.
But I loved the last scene in particular, where the girls ride away from their hometown of Porpoise Spit in a taxi, first shouting “goodbye” out the window to the mall, the beach, the plaza, and then just smiling at each other. It reminded me–somewhat randomly–of the end of “Valley Girl,” when Nick Cage and what’s-her-name look at each other and smile as they ride away from the chaos they caused at the Valley High prom. It’s a “yeah, we just did that” look and a little bit of a “you and me against the world look.” For Muriel and Rhonda especially it’s an “I love you, too” look, because the prize for Muriel at the end of “Muriel’s Wedding” is not a husband or a boyfriend, it’s a friend who thinks she’s awesome for no particular reason at all. So much so that she can believe it too, even without a wedding.
Wayback rating: Worth the trip