FILM REVIEW: Mental (15)
As titles go, Mental is a fair summation of PJ Hogan’s scattershot comedy of appalling manners, which reunites the Australian writer-director with his Muriel’s Wedding leading lady, Toni Collette.
In that picture, his beleaguered heroine was obsessed with the songs of ABBA.
Here, Hogan introduces a mother who retreats into the fantasy world of her favourite Rodgers & Hammerstein show: The Sound Of Music.
The Von Trapps provide a template of domestic perfection, inspiring the showtune-fixated mother to instruct her embarrassed children that becoming a real family involves “telling each other about our days, singing, dancing,...”
Who needs understanding when you have Edelweiss?
Barry Moochmore (Anthony LaPaglia) is the mayor of the close-knit town of Dolphin Heads and he is poised to hit the campaign trail to secure re-election.
So when his long-suffering wife Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) suffers a very public breakdown in front of their five daughters and prim next-door neighbour Nancy (Kerry Fox), Barry hastily packs her off to a mental health facility.
Facing the prospect of raising five teenagers he barely knows, Barry hires ballsy drifter Shaz (Collette) off the street to whip the children into shape.
Initially, Shaz strikes fear into the hearts of Coral (Lily Sullivan), Jane (Bethany Whitmore), Kayleen (Chelsea Bennett), Leanne (Nicole Freeman) and Michelle (Malorie O’Neill) with her no-nonsense attitude and omnipresent knife.
The Moochmore girls gradually draw strength from Shaz and they follow her unconventional advice to chase their dreams and find true love.
Meanwhile, Shaz carries out a secret plan which brought her to Dolphin Heads, re-igniting an old feud with Coral’s boss, grizzled shark hunter Trevor Blundell (Liev Schreiber).
Based on colourful characters from Hogan’s childhood, Mental paints a vivid portrait of a dysfunctional family in crisis.
The opening scene, introducing Shirley and her despairing daughters, is hysterical and Hogan skips quickly from one protagonist to the next, before settling on 16-year-old eldest child Coral, who attempted suicide three years earlier by leaping off the veranda.
“This event is known as the disgrace,” the teenager informs us drolly in voiceover.
Collette revels in her eye-catching role as the bong-smoking bad girl, who proudly proclaims to be “the avenging angel of the perpetually humiliated”.
Gibney curries sympathy and affection while LaPaglia is solid as the politician with a wandering eye, who believes his life would have been simpler if he had been blessed with sons.
Hogan’s script occasionally missteps - one character’s confession about being raped is awkward - and the coda is a bout of bad-taste lunacy too far.
However, the underlying message about embracing foibles should be cherished amid the giggles.
To quote Shaz in one of her lucid moments: “There’s no such thing as normal - it’s just different shades of mental.”
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10
Released: November 16, 115 mins