Writing by Molly McKew
Last November marked the 20th anniversary of Muriel’s Wedding, a much-quoted Australian dramedy that tells the tale of the socially inept 20-year old Muriel Heslop.
Muriel is in every way an outsider: she is rejected by the ‘cool’ girls who have clung on to each other since high school, continually derided by her family with the infamous catchphrase, “you’re terrible Muriel,” and is resident dole-bludger of her small country town, Porpoise Spit.
As a 13 year old, I watched this movie over and over again, fascinated by the transformation of the helpless dis-empowered Muriel into an independent, strong, and loving 20-something.
I saw myself in her fear-ridden lament, “I’m nothing. What if I’m nothing?” I identified with the way Muriel would excitedly dress up within the safety of her bedroom, her face falling as soon as the carefully curated look went public and she realised she got it wrong, again.
I applauded her gutsy efforts to include herself in the social lives of the ‘cool’ girls, even though they clearly found her mere presence embarrassing. I identified with her ambitious daydreams of love and marriage, when it was clear that kissing a boy was as alien to her as growing an extra limb. I identified with her obsessive personality and the way daylong fantasies about ABBA provided much needed respite from her drifting existence.
Muriel’s Wedding is a film that traverses a well worn path in many ways—ugly ducking to swan, small town to city, chubby to less chubby, sexual invisibility to sassy single lady. At first glance, Muriel’s Wedding may appear to be a standard rom-com with a happy ending, following a narrative that has been milked to death by Hollywood.
The film does not fulfill our expectation of the usual girl-gets-guy movie ending, however. The reason I love this film is because it is not about a wedding at all, but is ultimately is an affirmation of female friendship. It is about the enabling and profoundly life changing influence of the right best friend.
At the beginning of the film Muriel is clearly a misfit: her so-called friends obnoxiously drip with faux-luxe fabrics, glimmering jewellery, and feminine graces. Muriel, on the other hand, is cast as an unattractive klutz. She is ashamed of her body, couldn’t do subtle make up if it hit her in the face, and has no true friends, valuable career connections, or love interests. She fails to provide her friends with anything they want; namely, status.
Everything changes however, when Muriel meets Rhonda. The pair meet after Muriel successfully pilfers her father’s entire savings account to follow the aforementioned ‘friends’, who have neglected to invite her on a holiday to the fictional Hibiscus Island. Straight away Rhonda sees potential in Muriel—she sees a confident solo holiday-maker, a fun partner in crime with an ABBA obsession and the dancing skills to match. Rhonda enables Muriel to see her ‘friends’ for the superficial status seekers that they are. This culminates in a public showdown where Rhonda asserts to the leader of the group, “I would rather eat razor blades than have a drink with you,” before joyfully throwing a brightly coloured cocktail in her face. Rhonda’s belief that Muriel deserves more from her life is a turning point.
Rhonda encourages Muriel to release herself from the shackles of the small town of Porpoise Spit and move to Sydney. With Rhonda in the picture, Muriel becomes the woman she always knew she could be. She successfully navigates a first date in a bar full of leather clad men and music she doesn’t know. She can ask out a stranger, land her first job, earn her own money, and eventually, she becomes a loving and reliable carer for a sickly Rhonda.
We see that Muriel found her enabler, that special person who can see your potential beyond the tremors of insecurity; that friend who wants nothing more but to facilitate and enjoy the emergence of whatever makes you, you.
Female friendships have been much discussed in the media in the past few years, off the back of television shows that hinge around female friendships, such as Girls and Broad City. In this coverage, talk of ‘toxic’ female friendships abounds. The toxic friend ultimately does not have your best interests at heart. Toxic friends want to see you fail so you do not threaten their own fragile confidence. They fear your growth as a person because they don’t want to be left behind, helplessly stuck in the rut that you once miserably occupied.
My first experience of toxic friend behaviour was when I joined a gym at 14. After my first workout, I found my best friend at the time sitting outside the gym, waiting for me with a tub of ice cream and two spoons. It struck me that she was perhaps scared that I was going to become more attractive than her, usurping her glamorous place as the “hot one”. She was perhaps scared I was going to immerse myself in a new world of fitness and nutrition and find some new friends to match.
At 27 I am still learning about female friendships and toxicity. What is a healthy female friendship and how do I find it? What behaviour should be identified as toxic and oppressive and what is simply healthy concern borne out of love?
We all need positive models of female friendship, and this hilarious and profound film is exemplary. It is only now, after various experiences navigating the tricky world that is female friendship, that I realise why I loved Muriel’s Wedding so much. It showed me that to truly find my confident self, all I needed was to surround myself with people who don’t bond with me through the lens of their own insecurities, but who want me around because they see something they like, something unique.
True friends can be hard to find, but let this film be a reminder that they do exist. With the power of quality female friendship, you can have your move to the big smoke, meet the love of your life, pursue your dream job—whatever it is that floats your boat, a firm posse of positive friendships can take you there.