Muriel's Wedding Shines on DVD

Toni Collette, Bill Hunter, Rachel Griffiths, Matt Day. Directed by P.J. Hogan. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (widescreen). Dolby Digital Surround. 105 minutes. 1994. Miramax Home Entertainment 16542. R. $29.95.

Muriel's Wedding is the story of Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette), social pariah and resident of Porpoise Spit, Australia, who becomes even more of an outcast when she's arrested for theft at a snotty rival's wedding. Muriel uses the music of '70s pop group ABBA as aural Prozac, clinging to their songs of idyllic dreams-come-true as therapy and as a way to form an identity. Her dad, Councilman Bill Heslop (Bill Hunter), has made emotional invalids of his kids by telling them they're worthless. Muriel rebels against his continual denigration by stealing $10,000 from the family checking account and taking off on a holiday that changes her life.

Muriel meets Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), a sexy, free-spirited former school chum who helps her to believe in herself again. The pair escape to Sydney, where they start lives that begin to include self-respect and self-fulfillment. When Muriel is asked out on a date by a customer in the video store where she works, her newly budding life is ready to bloom. There are several disappointments and life lessons to come, but Muriel grows and learns from the setbacks rather than being overwhelmed by them.

When Muriel's Wedding was released in 1994, critics mislabeled it as "outrageous comedy," a tag that does disservice to Australian director P.J. Hogan's dark vision. It's less a laugh-out-loud comedy than a slide into the darkest depths, followed by eventual re-emergence into the real world. It has moments of pop-song glee, but before we get to its sweet, perfect ending, we witness a pile of pain, including self-denigration, suicide, humiliation, betrayal, and incurable disease. Perhaps critics were afraid to delve into this film's dark side.

"There is no comedy without tragedy," Hogan has said. "They're very closely aligned." Indeed, even if the studios were fearful of the murky, tragic edges that lurked on the fringes of Muriel's Wedding, mainstream viewers embraced the movie.

Muriel's Wedding made international stars of its talented actors—Toni Collette, who gained 40 pounds to play the ungainly, overweight Muriel Heslop, has since graced such films as Emma, Velvet Goldmine, and The Sixth Sense, which co-starred Bruce Willis. Rachel Griffiths and Matt Day have also won acclaim: an Oscar nomination for Hilary and Jackie for Griffiths, and for Day, worldwide nods for his role in Bill Bennett's murderous movie about trust, Kiss or Kill.

It's disappointing that Miramax has given viewers so few added attractions on this DVD. Though the film looks terrific and is, thankfully, released in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as a "bonus" the studio includes only a paltry (and rather seedy) music video of ABBA, transposed with brief scenes from the film.

My advice: Ignore the special features, sit back, crank the volume (ABBA should be heard, not seen), and lose yourself in a movie in which fairy tales do come true—after they've been fractured and redefined.