This outrageously irreverent Aussie comedy is an extraordinary film - hilarious one moment and grating the next. Director P.J. Hogan made his name with Muriel's Wedding and certainly isn't afraid to take risks - unfortunately, only some of them pay off here.
Toni Collette stars as Shaz, a tough and free-spirited character hired by busy local politician Barry Moochmore (Anthony LaPaglia) to look after his five wild daughters. Their mother Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) is taking a "holiday in Wollongong" - the family's code for taking some time out in a psychiatric facility.
Shaz is a questionable choice to look after these young girls, as it soon becomes apparent she has her own demons to wrestle, but in her shrill and crass way she instils some confidence and order into the girls' lives. She also makes short work of family, neighbours, and anyone else who dares bully her charges.
The intention is obviously to draw attention to how mental illness is a common problem among everyday people. Hogan does this by giving almost everyone an affliction of some type, from schizophrenia to nervous breakdowns and delusions to obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Failing that, the characters are generally selfish bullies. They're an extreme bunch, and when they overstep the mark, as Shaz does frequently, it becomes almost unbearable to watch.
I'm still dealing with the image of Toni Collette bending over and lighting her own fart, and the girls going next door to ruin the neighbour's white couch with bodily fluids. Collette is no stranger to playing characters dealing with mental illness, having played a woman with dissociative identity disorder on the TV show United States of Tara, but Shaz is Tara on steroids, with a strong Aussie accent.
Thankfully, Collette also gives her a softer side. When everyone calms down and the brashness is stripped away there are genuinely moving and tender moments between these fragile characters. It's the same with the comedy, when everyone stops trying so hard to shock us there are hilarious gags and classic lines to enjoy. Also worth mentioning is Liev Schreiber's performance as Shaz's ex- husband: his Aussie accent is perfect, no doubt thanks to his wife Naomi Watts
Mental should be applauded for taking a risk and pushing limits as it highlights the problem of mental illness, and for the casts' dedication to Hogan's madcap vision. Those who loved Muriel's Wedding will be primed for Hogan's colourful approach; others may find it a little hard to get their head around.
Cast: Toni Collette, Rebecca Gibney, Kerry Fox
Director: P.J. Hogan
Running time:116 mins
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: Just as it says in the title
- TimeOutBy Francesca Rudkin Email Francesca