MRR Review: "Mental"

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An Australian comedy film written and directed by P.J. Hogan, starring Toni Collette, Rebecca Gibney, Anthony LaPaglia & Liev Schreiber. When a philandering father's wife is committed following a nervous breakdown, he impulsively hires free spirited hitchhiker Shaz (Toni Collette) to take care of his five misfit daughters.
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MRR Review: "Mental"

-- Rating: Unrated
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: Mar. 29, 2013
Directed By: P.J. Hogan
Genre: Comedy/Drama

"Mental" is an Australian comedy that reunites director P.J. Hogan with his leading lady from the 1994 hit "Muriel's Wedding," Toni Collette. Like her character, Muriel, in the older film, Collette's character, Shaz, is a bit unusual. Unlike Muriel, Shaz is proud to be different. Her loud and proud anticonformity attitude is an overall theme in this new film.

Almost everyone in this film has a touch of crazy. The story begins with Shirley Moochmore, mother of five, actually being committed by her husband, a stereotypical politician who is more concerned with his image and his constituents than with his family. He tells the world that his wife is on holiday and quickly hires a nanny to take care of his teenage daughters, who are themselves doubting their own sanities, while their mother is living in an insane asylum.

Enter Shaz, not in the least bit qualified to function as a live-in nanny, and yet she was in the right place at the right time. Mary Poppins, she is not. She isn't even Nanny McPhee. You would think the father would be more discerning of whom he allows to become a maternal role model after his wife is committed, but he instead picks a hitchhiker who is anything but a normal, stable influence. Shaz goes so far as to say normalcy doesn't exist. Her theory is that everyone is a different shade of mental, with the totally mental in lunatic asylums or Australia. At one point, she asks the girls if they know the meaning of the word "conformia," to which they all nod. Shaz continues with, "Well, I don't. I instinctively do not know it." Of course, this doesn't make sense, but it is crazy funny.

Thankfully, Shaz's procrazy stance doesn't prevent her from recognizing that although her five charges are a bit nutsone carries around a knife in her boot, and she's not even the crazy oneat least one of the girls should probably join her mum for some mother-daughter bonding, straight jacket style. The other girls at least receive the empowering message to be themselves and forget what anyone else thinks of them, and this at least is sound advice for children raised by the image-obsessed mayor of their small town. This might not be the best thing to tell the obsessive-compulsive neighbor, though.

But Shaz hides a dark secret in the form of a ... shark hunter? She is running from Trevor Blundell, a local shark hunter played by Liev Schreiber, who may in fact be the most insane character in the movie, though also the most out of place. He is scarred, gruff, and loony, and he is a strange complement to Shaz's foul-mouthed freedom-seeking character. However, Schreiber is absolutely hilarious. He commits to the role, even if he doesn't seem to match the rest of the cast.

Fans of "Muriel's Wedding" will enjoy the Hogan and Collette duo, plus a small part played by Muriel's partner in crime, Sophie Lee. However, "Mental" is more grown up than the light-hearted 1994 film that showed the transformation of one insecure girl into a confident, though still quirky, woman. "Mental" shows the dangers of a callous community and losing one's individuality. It does at times make you wonder, however, if the director is recommending that mental patients should be given more respect and understanding as individuals with their own ways of looking at life or if people should try harder to help get them treatment. Where is the line between the shades of mental when someone needs psychiatric help and when someone is just expressing their uniqueness?

The film seeks to convey the struggle of living with mental illness, partially with a plot that feels disjointed and a bit confusing. Sometimes, it is difficult to follow, and many viewers may appreciate a more cohesive, structured storytelling. But considering P.J. Hogan, past successes, such as "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "Confessions of a Shopaholic," we can only assume that the lack of structure was a deliberate way to help the audience better understand what it is like to be mental, whether they wanted to or not.

"Mental" may seem like a fun, crazy adventure to some, but other viewers may wish for a smoother ride. The director does a decent job of tying up plot lines and finds a balance between nutty and unbelievable, but the lack of cohesion is distracting. Collette does a great job with an okay character. Shaz isn't exactly a heroine you'll fall in love with, but she's definitely not an antihero, or anti-heroine, either. She seems ballsy and at times vulnerable, but she's not a particularly new or interesting character. However, the film's antics and Shaz's backstory keep everyone entertained.

Rating 3 out of 5