Film: Mental

MENTAL

Where: On general release When: October 4

Almost 20 years after its release, Muriel’s Wedding remains one of the most successful and most loved Australian films of all time. 

So expectations are high for Mental, the long-awaited reunion between Muriel writer/director P.J. Hogan and star Toni Collette. While it’s a reasonably entertaining feature, unfortunately it’s a long way short of the bona fide classic of Muriel.

Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) is suffering a mental breakdown trying to raise five unruly daughters on her own. Her husband, Barry (Anthony LaPaglia), is an absent philanderer.

The final straw comes when Shirley orders truckloads of furniture and whitegoods to her door, exclaiming to her perplexed neighbours that her husband had a big win on Wheel of Fortune. 

Worried about his impending election campaign, Barry ships his wife off to psychiatric care and plucks stranger Shaz (Collette) from the street to be his daughters’ live-in nanny.

Anybody who has seen Collette’s excellent series United States of Tara will feel they recognise Shaz, a bong-smoking, knife-wielding unhinged woman. 

She makes it her mission to help Shirley’s five girls – led by eldest Coral (impressive newcomer Lily Sullivan) – all of whom claim to be suffering their own mental illnesses.

So begins a series of strange, darkly comic set pieces as Shaz attempts to expose the residents of pristine coastal town Dolphin Heads (Porpoise Spit, anyone?) for what they really are, and tries to convince the girls that it’s the ones with the perfectly manicured lawns and expensive white leather couches who are strange.

Things take a bizarre twist in the second half as shark hunter Trevor (Liev Schreiber), seen only fleetingly earlier in the film as Coral’s employer at an amusement park, is revealed to share a deep history with Shaz. But will the girls get their mother back, and is Shaz all she is cracked up to be?

There are some enjoyable cameos from the likes of Deborah Mailman and Rob Carlton, and the cinematography is superb.

But a couple of lowbrow gross-out gags feel out of place and the last 45 minutes are extremely disjointed.

Underwhelming and patchy, Mental isn’t a complete letdown but its bad points vastly outweigh its good. 

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