AT the Sydney preview screening of Mental, P. J. Hogan was on hand to warn us that his new film was like nothing we might expect. It was guaranteed to surprise. And no one, I think, will argue with that. Mental is like no other Australian film I can remember, and like nothing Hogan has done before — a long way, in spirit, from the world of Muriel’s Wedding, to say nothing of Peter Pan. An outrageous black comedy, a sour satire on suburbia, it cheerfully defies all known rules of good taste, moderation and political correctness.
And much of it is wickedly funny. Hogan’s subject is mental illness or, rather, a world in which there is no such thing as mental illness because there is no such thing as normality. It’s a daring proposition, to say the least; and whether Hogan gets away with it will depend partly on our experience of these matters and partly on our sense of humour.
According to Hogan, Mental is based on his own childhood; his mother had a breakdown, his father (like the father in the film) ran for the local council, and ‘‘ we were all a bunch of ratbags’’. Or as one character in Mental sums up the family’s plight: ‘‘ My dad hates us, my sister talks to aliens, and my mum is in a loony bin.’’
is Dolphin Heads, a stretch of
(MA15+) ★★★ National release
(M) ★★★✩✩ red-roofed Queensland suburbia reminiscent of Porpoise Spit, Muriel’s patch in premarital days. The Moochmores are not a happy family. Dad (Anthony LaPaglia) is too busy with local politics to spend time with his five daughters, and Mum (Rebecca Gibney), known to the neighbours as Mrs Moo, is obsessed with The Sound of Music. Her neighbour Nancy (Kerry Fox) is a racist with an obsessive-compulsive disorder who spends hours scrubbing her concrete driveway with a toothbrush.
When one of the Moochmore daughters declares, ‘‘ I expect to be a schizophrenic any day now,’’ we wonder who else will join her. It’s no surprise to learn that Mrs Moo has regular spells in a loony bin. Or, as her daughters are told, ‘‘ Mum’s on holiday in Wollongong.’’
It is during one of Mum’s holidays in Wollongong that Shaz (Toni Collette) arrives unbidden at the Moochmore household to be a