Mental

Mental (P. J. Hogan, 2012) Liev Schreiber, Toni Collette, Caroline Goodall, Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Fox, Deborah Mailman


I had read some of the reviews of Mental (P. J. Hogan, 2012) before I saw it. Australian reviewers like Andrew Urban and Margaret Pomeranz seemed to be struggling to find a way to say something positive about it—tho even David Stratton found it 'very disappointing'. Now that I've seen it, I can understand why they felt so torn. I too find it disappointing—because Muriel's Wedding (1994) was such a big deal, such a good film, and I liked it so much, and so a new film from PJ Hogan could have been another such major event. Well, it turns out it's much the same material, but now we're allowed to see more of the Dark Side. In the case of the earlier film, you had to point out to some viewers the sadness in the character of the melancholic wife (Jeanie Drynan's character) who set fire to the backyard in an attempt to draw attention to her misery before killing herself. But in this one, the misery is in yer face: particularly in the character of the svelteness-challenged daughter Michelle, who is diagnosed as schizophrenic, who is apparently based to some extent on Hogan's sister. The film seems to think it's a good thing when Michelle and clozapine are brought together, but there is ample opportunity before that union to see how unhappy the girl is.
Turning to a non-Australian reviewer, it was a relief to find that Richard Kuipers (in Variety) felt free to find the fatal flaw in the film:

But much of the humor is driven by a savage near-hatred of everything suburban that frequently undermines its effectiveness and poses a barrier to auds engaging emotionally with the central character and the wounded youngsters she's taken under her wing.

I wonder myself if the hatred does not extend to women. Hogan makes Rebecca Gibney's character even fatter than Toni Collette's was in Muriel (Toni must have been pissed off that Rebecca could wear a fat suit, while she had to put on 15kg!) And Collette's own character this time is a scary grotesque, reminiscent of her masculine alter Buck from United States of Tara.

And there's that scene where all the girls menstruate at the same minute on Kerry Fox's white furniture ... I was, like, omigod he's not really going to ... omigod he is ... and they do! And how is the teenage nude scene not gratuitous?

Everyone knows that it's almost impossible to pull off a comedy feature, and I think Hogan has here failed where before he did succeed. The material is too black, and should not have been revisited. Here are clips from some more reviews.

Although PJ Hogan professes that he's representing real life as he knows it on screen, for audiences he walks a fine line between the grotesque and the compassionate and for me, he succeeds, painfully but gracefully. Graham 'Grace' Walker's design is perfectly in keeping with that fine line and Don McAlpine's cinematography Jill Bilcock's editing enhance the whole. Margaret Pomeranz, At the Movies.

I saw Muriel's Wedding again quite recently and, in comparison with that, Mental is very disappointing, I think, and I really am at a loss to understand why P.J. Hogan, who is a very talented filmmaker, why he wants to sort of readdress so many of the themes from Muriel's Wedding. Because we've got a provincial seaside town. It's not Porpoise Spit. It's Dolphin Point. We've got the father, who is in local administration, who is screwing around. We've got the wife who is defeated and so on and so on. As you say, we've got The Sound of Music instead of ABBA. David Stratton, At the Movies.

The entire cast delivers what P.J. wants - the humour is sometimes used to hide the pain, while at other times the drama takes precedence and asks us to switch modes. This ambivalent approach is also evident in the differing styles of performance, ranging from naturalism to farce.
It's not perfect, and these mood swings make it difficult for us to engage with some of the cast as we swing from one to the other, unable to avoid the bumpy transitions. But still, there is so much meat on the bones of the film there is plenty to chew on ... Andrew L. Urban, Urban Cinefile.

Cut from virtually the same autobiographical cloth as Muriel's Wedding, but stitched with a far more jagged hand and encased in an even colder heart, Mental reps a mediocre return to grotesque Australian suburban comedy by scripter-helmer P.J. Hogan. Toplining Muriel star Toni Collette as a tough-as-nails stranger who becomes a life-changing nanny to the five daughters of a dysfunctional family, pic packs enough lowbrow laughs to scrape by as a crowdpleaser for undiscriminating auds. World preemed as the Melbourne fest's closer, Mental should perform OK on Oz release Oct. 4 but looks unlikely to generate much offshore excitement. ... But much of the humor is driven by a savage near-hatred of everything suburban that frequently undermines its effectiveness and poses a barrier to auds engaging emotionally with the central character and the wounded youngsters she's taken under her wing. ... Just about the only down-to-earth character in a gallery of grotesques, Trevor [Liev Schreiber] brings a much-needed shot of reality to the proceedings prior to an unwieldy finale involving his prize display and a musical number. Richard Kuipers, Variety.


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