Genuine originality is an increasingly rare thing at the cinema. When you’re not able to telegraph the ending of a film three minutes in; it’s a refreshingly experience. Filmmaker P.J Hogan’s ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ childhood that inspired the black comedy classic,Muriel’s Wedding has been mined again for Mental and it’s something special.
Mother of five (Rebbecca Gibney) suffers a breakdown attempting to cope with her eccentric daughters and philandering husband (Anthony Lapaglia). She is sent away to a Mental hospital (aka Wollongong) and when dad is put in charge of looking after the kids he enlists the help of random a hitchhiker Shaz (Toni Collette).
Mental establishes colourful and sensationalist impressions of crazy and subsequently bulldozes them away with great gear shifts to bring you back to the stark reality. The story is bat-shit, it takes lefts and rights and wrong turns that show that the even on a micro-budget (compared to his Hollywood fare) Hogan can weave an amazing aesthetic experience to compliment his colourful story. There’s a contrast of the wilderness blanketing the back-drop of the Great Dividing Range and the backwards kitsch of modern white Australian suburbia peppering the coastline.
All the performers get top marks for the scope that Hogan’s script demands. Gibney delivers a transformative and immersive performance that’s a different calibre than anything she’s delivered on television (the dull Packed the Rafters). As you’d expect Collette’s chameleon properties allow her to slip into Shaz effortlessly. Collette’s performance is a slow build and pays off with a bang. Lapaglia plays a flawed husband and father who’s able to peel away the ‘jerkish politician’ façade to reveal his own wounds and daddy issues. Lily Sullivan’s Coral (the eldest daughter) stands out from the crazy chorus of her siblings and moves into adulthood before our very eyes. Support from the joyous whirlwind that is Deb Mailman as Shaz’s crazy friend and Liev Schrieber (who does an amazing Aussie accent) as Coral’s employer is pitch perfect.
Mental is the love child of Mary Poppins and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s an Australian cult-classic in the making.
Directed by: P.J Hogan
Written by: P.J Hogan
Starring: Toni Collette, Anthony Lapaglia, Rebecca Gibney, Deborah Mailmen, Liev Schreiber