out of Five
Running time: 111
With a manic energy, colourful characters and a script that's frequently laugh-out-loud funny, this is a hugely entertaining Australian comedy-drama with terrific comic performances from a fine ensemble cast.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by P.J. Hogan, Mental stars Toni Collette (reteaming with her director for the first time since 1994's Muriel's Wedding launched both their careers) as Shaz, a no-nonsense drifter who travels with a vicious dog called Ripper and a knife in her boot.
Whilst hitch-hiking, she's picked up by womanising politician Barry Moochmore (Anthony LaPaglia), who hires her to be de facto nanny to his five troubled daughters (Lily Sullivan, Malorie O'Neill, Chelsea Bennett, Nicole Freeman, and Bethany Whitmore), since he's too busy with his upcoming mayoral election to look after them and his wife Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) has had a nervous breakdown and has taken herself off to a mental hospital.
Coming across like a sort of fucked-up Mary Poppins, Collette is terrific fun as Shaz, while there's strong support from LaPaglia and all five young actresses (particularly Sullivan as eldest daughter Coral and Whitmore as Jane) as well as colourful turns from Liev Schreiber (as a shark hunter who gives Coral a job at his shark exhibit), Kerry Fox (as an obnoxious neighbour) and The Sapphires' Deborah Mailman as a lusty lesbian friend of Shaz's.
Hogan directs with a manic energy throughout, deploying rapid-fire dialogue and some effective editing to capture the high intensity of the Moochmore household. This is augmented by some impressive production design work that's awash with garish bright colours, as well as Donald McAlpine's permanently sunny cinematography.
The script is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and there are several hilarious running jokes (Hogan doesn't quite achieve the catchphrase gold of ‘You're turrible, Muriel’, but he comes close), while the humour is cheerfully offensive in a way that only Australians seem able to get away with (the 15 certificate is for repeated uses of the c-word). On top of that, Hogan successfully pulls off some genuinely emotional sequences, even if the Sound of Music song-related moments can't quite match the heights of Muriel's Wedding's use of Abba songs.
The only real problem with the film is that it slightly overstays its welcome by not really knowing where or how to end, while a climactic action sequence (or what passes for one) doesn't quite come off.
Mental is a hugely enjoyable Australian comedy-drama with quotable dialogue, colourful characters and terrific comic performances from a superb cast. Highly recommended.