A socially awkward, overweight, and na├»ve "ugly duckling" obsessed with the music of ABBA, Muriel Heslop is the target of ridicule by the more fashion-conscious girls she considers her friends. She also is a perpetual daydreamer who yearns for a glamorous wedding and marriage to a man who will help elevate her from her personal limitations and free her from a tedious life dominated by her demanding and often psychologically abusive father Bill, a corrupt politician who verbally lashes out at his subservient wife Betty and their unambitious children at every opportunity he gets. 
After Bill discovers Muriel has stolen A$5,000 from a blank cheque to finance a vacation at a tropical resort, she leaves her family in the coastal town of Porpoise Spit to set up house in Sydney with her carefree, hedonistic, sexually-driven friend Rhonda. In Sydney, she follows her dream, only to discover life's realities.

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