Mental (2012, PJ Hogan)

Writer/director PJ Hogan teams up with Toni Colette once again, (Muriel’s Wedding, 1994) to produce Mental, an Australian comedy that’s just a bit crazy.

Colette plays the mysterious hitchhiker Shaz who, perhaps by pure coincidence, becomes a babysitter for the Moochmore family. The mum likens herself to be in the Von Trapp family and gets sent to an asylum. Cheating husband aside, Shaz looks after the five Moochmore daughters who all fiercely believe they’re absolutely mental.

Hogan seems to be returning to his Muriel’s Wedding – sorta comfort zone. They’re both set in sunny Queensland, with make-believe towns (Porpoise Spit is now Dolphin Heads – ha!). There’s a pensive, doubtful wife and the horribly rude father who shouts at kids and only has his political career in mind. The plot dives into the unknown, much like Muriel’s Wedding, venturing into heavy topics like death and mental health. But Mental departs from the path of a traditional comedy route and turns towards something much wilder and much darker, while still maintaing a certain level of the absurd.

It seems PJ Hogan feels more comfortable setting out into the unfamiliar with his Aussie comedies. Hogan’s previous Hollywood works – My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) – are nowhere near the unashamed wackiness and plain weirdness of his Aussie counterparts.

Perhaps it’s the idea of an Australian audience who would be more understanding of any sudden burst into song (a la the Moochmore family singing ‘Edelweiss’ at an election campaign) or an unexpected rude joke (“That family is similar to one of Aborigines” / “Mum hates abos…”). It’s this form of endearing quirkiness that makes it a very Australian comedy. And in fact, a very good one at that.

My rating: ***1/2

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