Film review: Mental
Mental, M, 115 mins
You could be forgiven for thinking you're suffering from deja vu at the start of Mental. The black comedy begins with Shirley Moochmoore (Rebecca Gibney) in the throes of a nervous breakdown. The mentally fragile mother has been (barely) holding down a household without support from her distant councillor husband (Anthony LaPaglia), who resents his family. They all live in a small town - Dolphin Heads - and there's a starring role from Toni Collette.
Sound familiar? These are all similarities shared with brilliant Australian tragi-comedy Muriel's Wedding, also directed by P J Hogan. Mental is apparently based on Hogan's own childhood experiences, in particular the time his father picked up a hitchhiker and employed her as the family nanny. Shaz (a brazen Collette) is the nanny in question, complete with vicious dog and a knife stashed in her boot, and, it transpires, plenty of other baggage.
The characters are all distinctly carved and memorable (many of them describe themselves as "mental") and Liev Schreiber puts on a good grizzly Aussie accent (perhaps after coaching lessons from his Australian wife Naomi Watts).
Sassy Shaz, a kind of crass, anti-Mary Poppins, teaches the girls she "nannies" life lessons but her motives may not be genuine. As her character rapidly unravels, Shaz's likeability declines.
The funny moments and cracker lines are dampened by some uncomfortable un-PC jokes. In the end Dolphin Heads is a long way from Muriel's Porpoise Spit.
Sunday Star Times