Mad house – Mental review

Mental – Starring Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia, and Rebecca Gibney. Directed by P.J. Hogan. Rated MA. By Jess Lomas.

The similarities between P.J. Hogan and Toni Collette’s first collaboration, Muriel’s Wedding, and their latest, Mental, are blindingly obvious, yet the latter fails spectacularly to match the heart and laughs of the 90s hit that took Australia by storm.

In Mental, Rebecca Gibney plays Shirley Moochmore, mother of five girls, wife to the womanising local mayor Barry (Anthony LaPaglia), and resident of the Queensland seaside town Dolphin Heads (it’s no Porpoise Spit) where her family sticks out like a sore thumb. Shirley sings songs from The Sound of Music in the backyard and dreams of transforming her family into the Von Trapps before she’s sent to “Wollongong” to receive treatment, leaving her teenage daughters in need of a carer. With Barry preoccupied with his re-election, coupled with his inability to remember his kids’ names, he brings home hitchhiker Shaz (Collette) to be their nanny. She’s rough around the edges, smokes a bong, carries a knife, and is accompanied by a nasty dog, but perhaps she is just what the girls, and the Moochmore family, need.

Shaz’s mission is to help the girls embrace what makes them different and what sets them apart from the rest of the town, going up their against obsessive compulsive neighbour Nancy (Kerry Fox) and Shirley’s doll-collecting sister Doris (Caroline Goodall). What the Moochmore’s don’t discover until later is Shaz’s own mission, tied to her dark past with the local shark hunter Trevor (Liev Schreiber, adopting a very convincing Aussie accent).

While Mental is, on the whole, a somewhat entertaining film, it suffers from several issues. Coming in at almost two hours, it’s decidedly too long. Not even the great performances from the likes of Lily Sullivan, who plays the eldest Moochmore daughter Coral, and Deborah Mailman, who steals the show as mental patient and Shaz’s friend Sandra, can save this uneven and cluttered picture. Collette’s performance only adds to the caricatured nature of this movie, from her over-the-top ocker accent to the general lack of believability in her character and her motivations. She delivers some laughs but the lacklustre script doesn’t give her much of an opportunity to shine. Dealing with issues of mental health, the absence of the father, and the children’s journey as they search for their own identities, Mental is a low-brow comedy in need of a ruthless edit as it prioritises cheap laughs over a well-structured story.

2.5/5

Mental arrives in Australian cinemas October 4, 2012.

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