Toni Collette shines in PJ Hogan's comedy tackling mental health issues
Muriel’s Wedding launched writer/director PJ Hogan onto a stuttering Hollywood career, but after the bland confection of Confessions of a Shopaholic, Hogan has returned to his native Australia. Mental is an outrageous comedy reuniting him with his Muriel, Toni Collette, and her strident performance is the best thing about it.
Colette plays Shaz, a knife-wielding, pot-smoking version of Nanny McPhee, hired by philandering politician Barry Moochmore (Anthony LaPaglia) to take charge of his five wild daughters; mother Doris (Caroline Goodall) has been carted off to a mental institution thinking she’s the central character in The Sound of Music. Shaz quickly gets to grips with the girls, who imagine themselves suffering from various mental disorders. As she corrects the many ways in which the local community slighted Doris, it becomes apparent that Shaz has her own personal demons to confront. These take the form of Trevor Blundell (Liev Schreiber), a local water-park owner with obvious similarities to the late Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter.
With a bright, gaudy colour palette and equipped with jolly songs from the classic 1966 Julie Andrews musical, Hogan sets about creating the same balance between comedy and pathos featured in Muriel’s Wedding, but the treatment of real issues is too facile. Although Hogan claims Mental is based on a true story from his family history, the resolutions are pat; when Michelle (Malorie O’Neill) is found to be genuinely disturbed, a quick dose of pills rights all wrongs.
Mental at least has its heart in the right place, and deserves some credit for tackling stigma about mental health issues head on, even if the graphic synchronized menstruation scene seems like a protest too far. And Collette anchors the film with a selfless, let-it-all-hang-out performance that sets an agreeably anarchic tone.