Barry Moochmore (Anthony LaPaglia) is the Mayor of Dolphin Heads where he pays more attention to his re-election than his troubled wife Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) or his daughters Coral (Lilly Sullivan), Michelle (Malorie O'Neill), Leanne (Nicole Freeman), Kayleen (Chelsea Bennett) and Jane (Bethany Whitmore). All the females feel marginalised and a little mental, and the girls despair at their mother's unconventional behaviour. But when Shirley is sent to 'Wollongong' for a 'holiday', and Barry brings hitchiking Shaz (Toni Collette) into the house, they meet the personification of 'mental' and unconventional - and proud of it. Shez has a secret agenda, but until that is uncovered, the Moochmore family is transformed. Some of their family and neighbours are also caught in the crazy web ...
Review by Louise Keller:
In P.J. Hogan's Mental, there are brush strokes of genius and dark clouds of overkill in this ambitious film in praise of family and being accepted for who you are. It's been 18 years since Hogan's breakthrough hit Muriel's Wedding which made our hearts soar as we laughed with the characters, and made us weep from its flip-side pathos. It was also Toni Collette's calling card. Who did not embrace her unpopular, overweight Muriel, who loved ABBA songs and who dreamed of getting married?
In Mental, all the signs point to Hogan wanting to recreate another Muriel's Wedding. Even his leading lady, Collette is on board, leading the charge in a reality that is surreal and over-the-top. Muriel was set in Porpoise Spit; Mental is in Dolphin Heads and The Sound of Music has replace the obsession for ABBA music. There are laughs but not enough and the moments of pathos do not come naturally. There is no question that Hogan is tackling high risk subject matter in the topic of mental illness and the line that divides humour, bad taste and pathos is a fine one indeed.
But let me tell you what I like about Mental: the characters, who are all obsessed by something. There's Liev Schreiber with a fair dinkum Aussie accent as a crazed shark-obsessed theme-park owner and Deborah Mailman with a cheeky grin as the mad-as-a-hatter lesbian. I was delighted to see (and hear) that Anthony LaPaglia can remember how to speak Strine in his guise as an adulterous politician and absent father unable to remember the name of his daughters.
Lilly Sullivan is a real find as the impressionable teenage Coral, who works for the theme-park and has a crush on the suitably named guitar-strumming surfie-type Trout (Sam Clark). Beautiful Rebecca Gibney is almost unrecognisable as the overweight, insecure Shirley Moochmore, who has always dreamed of being one of the Von Trapp family (and a credit to Austria) as she sings the songs from the film.
Glazed china dolls are the obsession of Shirley's older sister Doris, beautifully played by Caroline Goodall, while Kerry Fox bravely plays Nancy, the cleanliness-obsessed neighbour whose daughter (Hayley Magnus) cannot keep her legs together. The other Moochmore kids are excellent, too.
Toni Collette warrants a separate round of applause for her commitment to Shaz, the pot-smoking hitchhiker with the grandiose notion of avenging the perpetually humiliated. Arriving on the scene with her dog Ripper (the scene in which Ripper buries his nose between Shirley's legs is a match for the dog's name), Shaz is a larger than life creation intent on changing not only her destiny but that of those around her. Crashing into the Moochmore world of chaos, Shaz brings with her a grandiose notion that it is everyone else who is 'mental'; she and the Moochores represent the next step of human evolution - that of perfection.
It is the tone and the touch that suffer. Instead of a light touch, Hogan makes his point too obviously, which in turn lessens the impact and the humour. The Sound of Music jokes go far too long, as does everything else in the film. The scenes in which the film's pathos is revealed feel separate from the rest of the narrative. It is a shame because the highly imaginative characters with their obsessions and foibles are wonderfully drawn and should not be allowed to be swept away in a wave of overstatement. Brisk editing and a little bit of subtlety within the colourful chaos would have been more than welcome. Instead, we are left disappointed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you're a fan of P.J. Hogan's iconic tragi-comedy, Muriel's Wedding (1994), you'll probably play 'spot the parallels' while watching Mental, but don't let that obscure some salient differences. Sure, the father figure, here played by Anthony LaPaglia in marvellous, reprehensible form, and the mother, a heartbreaking performance by Rebecca Gibney, are reminiscent of Muriel's mum and dad. The siblings, too, are comparable in some ways - as social outcasts - but Hogan takes us further and deeper into the darkness even than he did with Muriel.
And where Hogan relied on ABBA to push some buttons in Muriel's Wedding, here the musical tool is The Sound of Music, songs that are so familiar, in circumstances so strange. It doesn't work quite as well, and it grates when overdone.
But while Toni Collette stars as Shaz, she is a far cry from Muriel, although just as troubled and just as much of a survivor.
The surface humour, the broad comedy and the energy are all there to get us over the tough bits with momentum; the film plays as a complex tragi-comedy that confronts and challenges the audience to accept or reject the characters, one by one. Some in the audience won't last the distance ... it's a potentially divisive, subversive work.
Hogan has layered the film with great detail and pushes us towards emotional connection at every opportunity. Collette is terrific; she is dynamic and makes Shaz a real, vibrant, multidimensional character.
The screenplay gives Shaz a secret reason for her being in Dolphin Heads, and it's to do with Trevor Blundell (Liev Schreiber) who runs the shark show in town; this subplot proves to be vital both in character terms and as a plot point.
The entire cast delivers what P.J. wants - the humour is sometimes used to hide the pain, while at other times the drama takes precedence and asks us to switch modes. This ambivalent approach is also evident in the differing styles of performance, ranging from naturalism to farce.
It's not perfect, and these mood swings make it difficult for us to engage with some of the cast as we swing from one to the other, unable to avoid the bumpy transitions. But still, there is so much meat on the bones of the film there is plenty to chew on, ranging from the overt issues around mental health (and it pulls no punches) to the less obvious ones and the themes of parenting, self image, respect, grief and family.
Shirley Moochmore's infatuation with the von Trapps in The Sound of Music is driven by her dream that her own family could be like that. A forlorn dream, but a dream it is, although it is presented as grotesque - perhaps inadvertently. Inspired by events in P.J. Hogan's own life at age 12, the film is as rich as real life, and as complicated. It might look like escapism but it's not mindless, painless escapism - it hurts a bit.
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CAST: Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, Deborah Mailman, Bethany Whitmore, Sam Clark, Lily Sullivan, Nicole Freeman, Rob Carlton,
PRODUCER: Todd Fellman, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker
DIRECTOR: P. J. Hogan
SCRIPT: P. J. Hogan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Donald McAlpine
EDITOR: Jill Bilcock
MUSIC: Michael Yezerski
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Graham 'Grace' Walker
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 4, 2012