Starring Liev Schreiber, Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia.
Directed by PJ Hogan.
Classification: MA15+ (Strong coarse language and themes), 116 mins.
The Moochmore girls are certain they all suffer from some kind of undiagnosed mental illness - because if they're not crazy then they're just unpopular. Their mother Shirley - unable to cope with her demanding daughters and unsupported by her philandering politician husband, Barry - suffers a nervous breakdown. After Barry commits his wife to a mental hospital (telling his constituents that "she's on holiday") he finds himself alone with 5 teenage girls he barely knows. Desperate, he impulsively picks up a hitchhiker named Shaz and installs her in his home as nanny to his daughters.
If there’s method to writer-director PJ Hogan’s madness, it’s not obvious from the unruly opening frames of MENTAL, a suburban comedy that celebrates mayhem and mischief-making as the correct responses to societal straightjackets.But, aided and abetted by the rule-defying Toni Collette, whose onscreen powers have only multiplied since the two worked together on the much-loved Muriel’s Wedding in 1994, the equally dissident filmmaker soon makes it clear he’s in control of the crazy.From the moment Collette’s knife-wielding hippie hitchhiker arrives to play nanny to a dysfunctional family of girls, the disarmingly cuckoo Australian production finds its focus, punching through the humor with moments of wrenching gravity as it challenges the stereotypes of mental illness.Conservative audiences will find MENTAL’s super-vivid kitsch and salty language over-stimulating. Tough luck, Hogan seems to say!Hogan’s semi-autobiographical work is unrepentantly Australian. Just as the songs of ABBA consoled the delightfully oddball title character in Muriel’s Wedding, Hogan uses The Sound of Music to play doctor to sweet Shirley Moochmore (Rebecca Gibney), a mother of five teenage daughters whose life as a doormat has driven her round the twist.Kerry Fox, as a compulsive neatnik, and Caroline Goodall, as Shirley’s jealous, doll-collecting older sister, turn in fine portrayals of women passing as normal, while national treasure Deborah Mailman (The Sapphires) is brilliant as a gleefully nonconformist lesbian.Hogan’s more-is-more credo extends to a jam-packed production design, and bright cinematography by veteran lenser Don McAlpine (Oscar-nominated for Moulin Rouge!) adds to a technically assured production boasting all the breathless ups and downs of a fun-park ride. [EDITED]
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