“Muriel’s Wedding” (1994)
An ABBA-laced soundtrack, pre-fame Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, and a really hot South African Olympic swimmer, what more do you want? Oh wait, there’s a wedding, silly. Muriel (Collette) has one dream, and that’s to get out of nowheresville Porpoise Spit and have a jaw-droppingly beautiful wedding to a bridegroom that will knock her into the social stratosphere of Sydney. Being the quirky underdog in a world not built around large smiles and not-so-petite figures (unlike most brides, Colette gained 40 pounds in 7 weeks for the role), Muriel begins as a daydreamer and shows her real worth when all of her supposed dreams start to come true - “When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I've met you and moved to Sydney, I haven't listened to one ABBA song. That's because my life is as good as an ABBA song. It's as good as 'Dancing Queen.' ” Griffiths is her childhood chum who goes along for most of the ride and is a great karaoke partner. For a film including a wedding that is the protagonist’s main goal in life, it may come as a pleasant surprise that the emotional takeaway is the value of female friendship through thick and thin. Sort of like “Georgy Girl” meets “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” “Muriel’s Wedding” is a touching and funny film that stands the test of time beyond the wedding season and bridal movie rentals.
“Only You” (1994)
“Only You” is a frothy romantic comedy where the wedding is just the catalyst for the adventure that‘s to come. Faith Corvatch (Marisa Tomei) is set to marry a boring podiatrist, but forsakes everything to go to Italy to hunt down her soul mate; a man whose name was revealed to her by a fortune teller when she was eleven. Upon entering the city of love, she meets a man who doesn’t have the right name (played by pre-“Iron Man” Robert Downey Jr.), but could very well be the man she’s looking for. It’s never explicitly stated that Faith takes off due to the world’s worst case of cold feet, but it’s apparent from the first minute you meet her fiancée that he’s not the man for her. Aside from early scenes of Faith wearing her wedding dress and having some type of rehearsal dinner, there’s not an actual wedding upon completion of the movie, ultimately emphasizing it’s not the destination, but the journey. Faith’s journey, taken totally on…faith -- unfortunately this movie doesn’t define subtlety -- places her at odds with a slew of men who aren’t right, all proving to her that the man she’s seeking is her only hope. The likable performances from Tomei and Robert Downey Jr., in a character performance devoid of cockiness entirely, and Bonnie Hunt playing everyone’s mom/best friend, “Only You” wants to tell audiences that you shouldn’t settle until you find your soulmate, but expect to spend a lot of money for a ticket to Italy in order to find him.
"Ceremony," Max Winkler's debut film, is a fast talking, slightly neurotic take on the wedding crasher sub-genre. With stylized and effective nods to both Whit Stillman and Wes Anderson, "Ceremony" has a lot going for it. Michael Angarano plays Sam, a wannabe children's book author, who takes the anxious Marshall (Reece Thompson) on a weekend away on the pretense of rekindling their lapsed friendship. This turns out to be a ruse, as Sam quickly convinces his naive friend to crash the nearby wedding, which turns out to be that of his former lover Zoe (played by Uma Thurman), who he is determined to win back. Angarano and Thurman both put in strong performances, and as sort-of romantic leads, despite their height and age disparities, and pull off some convincing chemistry. "The New Girl" star Jake Johnson is effective as Zoe's alcohol-soaked brother, who despite the somewhat one-note role, pulls the biggest laughs. The film also looks fantastic, from the crispy cinematography, to the perfectly covetable set dressing. The classic rock soundtrack never misses, with one of the standouts being Ezra Koenig's cover of Paul Simon's "Papa Hobo". Winkler has created a group of characters that, while being flawed, are also quite sweet in their own way, which can also be said for the film itself, it doesn't always hit its marks, but it manages to charm nonetheless.
The 2008 adaptation of the Broadway musical, “Mamma Mia,” plays like a random episode of the Jerry Springer or Maury Povich show. Young Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is getting married and wants her father to walk her down the aisle; a simple request, one would expect, only the problem is that Sophie doesn’t know who her father is! See, her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) was a little…promiscuous, so Sophie invites the three possible men who were with her mother at the same time. With that premise in hand, the audience settles in for a wedding that culminates with three men realizing they’ve all slept with the same woman, at around the same time, and possibly fathered a child. There’s plenty of room for love, that makes little sense considering, but there’s no room for sadness in a musical like this. Of course, being a hit Broadway musical filled with ABBA songs, all ends happily, despite Sophie never knowing the real answer. The plot’s trajectory makes it explicit that it’s not in finding out who is Sophie’s father, but in discovering who Sophie is as a person that matters. Yes, it all turns out to be a long road to self-discovery. “Mamma Mia” isn’t the best musical in terms of narrative, but the entire focus on the wedding creates character drama where the question becomes: “Does knowing both parents make you a better person?” I’m sure a few of those Jerry Springer guests would answer in the affirmative, but Sophie gets three days and a happy wedding day.