What A Difference An Age Makes: Rewatching Muriel’s Wedding

This weekend I rewatched, for the first time in a decade, two films from my early adolescence.

The first was Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), a mockumentary black comedy focused on the world of American teen pageants and starring Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards (pre-Sheen), Kirstie Alley and the late Brittany Murphy. I rented this video from Blockbusters on what was practically a weekly basis as an eleven year old; it provided as much amusement this week as it did back then, though there were several scenes that appeared totally new to me which, as someone who can remember the plots of most films scene-by-scene, was a vaguely alarming experience. But visual memory aside, it was a welcome dose of nostalgia and as good a film as I remembered it, most especially Allison Janney in a role that I now realise was my first exposure to her.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994), however, was the film which benefitted the most from this weekend’s trip down memory lane. Don’t get me wrong, I can say with absolute certainty that I loved the film when I was younger – I had recently been introduced to ABBA by my mother, and the weaving of their music into the narrative gave me something to identify with, a reference point for me that would have been lacking elsewhere. I distinctly remember believing that the film was set in the 1970s, coming to the realisation that it was (at the time) contemporary only later, and most of the plot points, like mental health, the breakdown of a marriage, and familial relations, probably escaped me entirely. But I loved Muriel, and I felt for her even if I didn’t understand, and it was that remembered feeling which prompted my hand this weekend (and my DVD player).

If we start with anything, it’s the sudden revelation of nuances which I could never have caught the first (second, third, fourth) time around. Muriel’s motivations are stunningly clear and Rhonda makes about a hundred times more sense, both in terms of her role as foil and motivator to Muriel and her personality itself, which was far more alien when I was eleven. Muriel stealing her father’s money was a hollow concept to me back then, but the full scope of it and its consequences on Muriel’s family is something I could see and appreciate fully; now I can trace the slow unravelling of life in Porpoise Spit to the moment that Muriel asks her mother to leave the cheque blank. Emotional arcs became apparent in ways they hadn’t been before, and some of the film’s more subtly uncomfortable moments – the tension at Muriel’s wedding between the bride and groom, the long seconds when Muriel is still laughing after Rhonda has said she can’t feel her legs – were rendered understandable. There were social complexities that echoed with the world I know today, words like dole queue that I don’t remember hearing as a child, and a silent class war – the young, privileged and beautiful elevating themselves above those they saw as less – that I couldn’t have appreciated before.

Perhaps the biggest change between then and now is how I see Muriel. Back then she was to me no more than a lost little girl, and she still is – now, however, I can see the bad decisions that she makes, the selfishness in them that sometimes can be argued as necessary. I was upset with her for abandoning Rhonda in pursuit of her own happiness, for carelessly betraying her mother – but I could see why, and that word is always very, very important. It was like watching your best friend making mistakes; however exasperated or angry you get with them, you still love them.

I might be approaching Muriel’s Wedding from a very different place now (from a different, new-millenium world), but the feelings it brought to me as a child remain; it’s just that now I can say I love it twice as much.