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2012 | 116 min | MA15+ | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 29 March, 2013
 16 November, 2012

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Screenshots from Mental Blu-ray

Mental Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 28, 2013

“Mental” is mental, living up to the potential of its title with a wild, uninhibited display of psychological fractures and grotesque comedy. The picture marks the return of writer/director P.J. Hogan to the screen, who long ago helmed the cult hit “Muriel’s Wedding” before embarking on a deflating Hollywood career that included “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” 2003’s “Peter Pan,” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Revisiting his Australian roots, Hogan summons a tidal wave of mischief and manic activity with “Mental,” straddling a thin line between insanity and compassion. Hilarious but a tonal bucking bronco, the effort is perhaps best reserved for viewers in the mood for a runaway mine cart viewing experience, willing to absorb all the chaos Hogan happily provides.

In the suburban Australian town of Dolphin Heads, homemaker Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) has lost her mind, trying to deal with her neglectful husband, town mayor Barry (Anthony LaPaglia), and her frenzied children, including Jane (Bethany Whitmore), Michelle (Malorie O’Neill), Leanne (Nicole Freeman), Kayleen (Chelsea Bennett), and the eldest, Coral (Lily Sullivan). When she suffers a nervous breakdown in front of her judgmental neighbors, Shirley is sent to a mental hospital for recuperation, leaving Barry in a panic to find the household supervision he has no interest in providing. Settling on hitchhiker Shaz (Toni Collette), Barry hopes the knife-packing dog owner is enough to keep his daughters in line. Instead of discipline, Shaz provides a type of therapy for the girls, encouraging self-confidence and awareness of personal issues, with Coral blossoming under this new leadership, tangling with water park co-worker Trout (Sam Clark). While rebuilding her charges from the ground up, Shaz has an ulterior motive in Dolphin Heads, anxious to infiltrate noted huntsman Trevor Blundell’s (Live Schreiber) shark exhibition and cause trouble.

A continuation of the bruised style and rush of insanity found in “Muriel’s Wedding,” “Mental” returns Hogan to his Aussie sense of humor, a place where discomfort is king and the cinematography is exaggerated into a blissful Candyland of colors. Although it qualifies as more of a dark comedy, the movie commences with a burst of soaring activity, observing Shirley horrify her family as she breaks out into song (“The Sound of Music” being her particular poison) in her backyard, signaling her final descent into a happy zone of destructive behavior that soon explodes into a delusional shopping spree before her hospitalization. It’s hyper and showtune-ready, playing into Hogan’s interests as a creative force, while establishing an illness permeating the household, with Coral already a suicide case due to her self-loathing and Michelle hounded by schizophrenic visions of masked men. It’s not a pretty sight, yet “Mental” keeps upright due to its sheer behavioral energy and amplified look, turning these meltdowns into burning examples of damage, often baited by condemnatory outsiders.

When Shaz enters the picture, “Mental” teases a conventional route of healing, watching this bong-huffing Maria von Trapp work with the motherless girls to build their self-worth and detect the actual insanity that surrounds them, identifying OCD life in the suburbs as the true disease. She’s blunt and violent, skillfully diagnosing the real toxins in the air, confronting Shirley’s doll-obsessed sister, Doris (Caroline Goodall), and antagonizing neighbor Nancy (Kerry Fox), whose sterilized world of white fabric is bombed into oblivion when Shaz and the girls play a menstrual blood prank as revenge for all the awfulness pushed on them. Hogan doesn’t sugarcoat the reawakening, escalating tensions between the kids and their absentee, adulterous father, while Coral goes through a coming-of-age experience with singing dim-wit Trout, marking the first time I’ve seen a cinematic seduction conducted during a nude water slide run (ouch!). There’s also a question of Trevor, a gruff shark enthusiast who looks after employee Coral, with unfinished business between the hunter and Shaz coming into view during the feature’s final act.

The ensemble is magnificent, gamely following Hogan’s lead into song and dance, madness and eruption. Collette is a splendid leader of the pack, portraying a woman who’s merely covering her own disorder with a show of force, gradually cracking the counselor veneer to reveal horrors that mirror the ones she’s attempting to squeeze out of the girls. Gibney is just as raw as Shirley, making the character vulnerable yet credibly entombed by her poor eating habits and disregard of personal priorities. Also of note is Sullivan, who expresses the perfect amount of teen turmoil as Coral, making impulses and worries feel natural despite Hogan’s deliberately overstated approach. In fact, all the young performers are sublime, creating a vibrant family unit with interesting evils aching to be conquered. And for sheer comedic bliss, Deborah Mailman pops in for a few scenes as an unbalanced old friend of Shaz’s, adding to the tornado-like quality of the movie.

“Mental” plays aggressively and climaxes with the same fury, crashing back down to Earth with a drastic conclusion that exposes Shaz’s grim motivation for her trip to Dolphin Heads. It’s a heavy turn of events, though it all remains thematically consistent, watching the teacher become the student once the depth of Shaz’s misery is revealed. Normally, this tonal free fall often results in the death of momentum, but Hogan delivers the gravity with the same concentration as the fantasy, making the viewer feel the natural shift of perspective instead of simply crashing the feature to meet the demands of structure. It’s a rough final act, but “Mental” isn’t one to play matters calmly, offering those on the hunt for bawdy, brusque entertainment a few slashes and sing-alongs to go with their sobering depictions of brain-draining grief.

Starring: Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Caroline Goodall, Bethany Whitmore, Kerry Fox
Director: P.J. Hogan

» See full cast & crew

Mental, Forum Discussions

Last post
The Mentalist Discussion Thread 66 Sep 21, 2013
The Mentalist 16 Oct 02, 2008
The Mentalist Mega-Thread 2 Nov 19, 2008
CBS Goes Mental 1 Feb 27, 2008
The Mentalist (SPOILER ALERT) 0 Apr 20, 2009

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