Confession: I had a poster on my bedroom wall of that deliciously tight-bunned Paul Mercurio when Strictly Ballroom came out so I clearly have a soft spot for big, brash Aussie cinema. Mental falls into that category. It’s so gaudy that if you go, take sunglasses. But don’t go. More
What Ballroom and PJ Hogan’s previous Toni Collette vehicle, Muriel’s Wedding, had were moments of emotional truth underpinning the vulgarity. Mental has noble intentions, supposedly inspired by the filmmaker’s experience with family members who suffer from mental illness, yet not one of the characters rings true which means it neither plucks on the heart strings nor tickles the funny bone. The jokes are obvious, ugly and unfunny. Periods on white couches, anyone?
How this script attracted such a stellar line up of Australian (and some New Zealand) talent is a mystery. Collette goes into overdrive as zany Shaz, the mysterious messiah of the outcast family. Poor Rebecca Gibney piled on 20kg for her role as the downtrodden mother driven around the bend by her absent, womanising husband. An almost unrecognisable Kerry Fox turns up as an uptight neighbour and Deborah Mailman as a lusty lesbian. American Liev Shreiber puts in the most convincing performance of the bunch as the grizzly Steve-Irwinesque shark hunter with a flawless Australian accent.
Hogan reprises his musical trick from Muriel’s Wedding but instead of wonderfully kitschy ABBA it’s The Sound of Music that forms the laboured soundtrack – to a much lesser effect. If there’s a morality tale in here somewhere it’s obliterated by Hogan’s blunt stick approach to humour. Enough to send you mental. Hide