PJ Hogan’s debut film Muriel’s Wedding was a near-perfect combination of energetic kitsch, lovable characters, black humour and Australian social satire. Does Hogan repeat the Muriel magic with his latest film Mental? No, he does not! Despite aping Muriel with its ugly bogan beachside setting, its family (and particularly Mother) neglected and belittled by a philandering politician Father and its cheesy pop cultural references, in this case the Sound of Music, Mental has none of Muriel’s originality or inspired humour. Instead, it replaces Muriel’s endearing qualities with grating, over-the-top crassness and hideous over-acting particularly from Collette – who, in a new Australian cinematic low, lights a fart – and veers disturbingly close to Welcome to Woop Woop.
In Mental a mother (a de-glammed Rebecca Gibney) of five young girls winds up in a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown leaving the selfish, irresponsible Father (Anthony La Paglia) to find someone to look after the children. La Paglia employs pretty much the first woman he sees on the street, a knife-wielding, chain-smoking hellion named Shaz (Toni Collette) as a would-be nanny. She embarks on a maniacal quest to bring chaos into the conservative suburban lives of her neighbours and to teach the girls – all of whom think they are mentally ill- that there’s nothing wrong with them. She also has a secret agenda involving local shark hunter played by American ring-in Liev Schreiber.
Mental is apparently based on actual events in director P.J. Hogan’s life. While this means we can give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the believability of some of the film’s less plausible moments it does not mean we can accept the clumsy and irritating way they are presented in this film.
Admittedly, the film’s attack on narrow-minded conservatives who deem eccentricity, self-expression and individuality to be socially unacceptable is admirable. To this end it draws on issues such as acceptance of the mentally ill and same sex marriage. Unfortunately these issues are lost amid the loud, grating performances and a mostly unfunny script.
La Paglia (normally a commanding screen presenece) plays basically the same character as Bill Hunter in Muriel’s Wedding but without the charisma or pathos. Liev Shriver is briefly amusing as the psychotic shark hunter and he does a very good Australian accent but his character and the sub-plot in which he features seem tacked on. Fortunately, Rebecca Gibney gives the film much needed dignity in a sympathetic role. The five young girls also give spirited performances.
Some audiences will lap up this film’s maniacal energy and political incorrectness but for this reviewer it was a major disappointment.
Nick’s rating: Two stars.
Classification: MA 15+
Director(s): PJ Hogan
Release date: 4th Oct 2012
Running time: 116 mins.
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