The Aussie hills are alive, mate
MENTAL ★★ Directed by PJ Hogan. Starring Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber, Rebecca Gibney, Deborah Mailman, Kerry Fox
15A cert, general release, 115 min FOR ABOUT 30 seconds, the latest film from PJ Hogan – working in Australia for the first time since Muriel’s Wedding – looks like it might prove to be an interesting piece of work. The camera flies past rugged mountains before locating a typical suburb and soaring down to frame a disturbed housewife. It seems Hogan is reminding us that this conventionally civilised nation scrubs its living in the midst of hostile wilderness.
Then Doris (Caroline Goodall) opens her arms and mouths along to one of Rogers & Hammerstein’s most anthemic songs. No, it’s just a homage to the beginning of The Sound of Music.
Nearly 20 years have passed since Muriel’s Wedding. But Hogan still seems to believe that a camp singalong can solve all traumas. You want to find a new trick, mate.
That lachrymose musical is not the only Julie Andrews film being referenced. Strains of schizophrenia and bipolarity run through Doris’s family. After toying with eccentricity, Doris has a complete breakdown and is carted off to the local mental institution, leaving her five daughters in a state of distress. Her uptight husband (Anthony LaPaglia), the mayor, employs Shaz (Toni Collette), a local hippie, to take care of the gang, but is quickly knocked sideways by her unconventional approach. Yes, it’s The Sound of Mary Poppins.
To be fair to Hogan, his heart is in the right place. The film looks like an honest attempt to address mental health issues through the medium of popular comedy. Hogan cares for the eccentrics. He has disdain for the glowering neighbours next door.
The film is, however, so relentlessly noisy, hysterically zippy and consistently disordered that it proves impossible to focus on the unfortunate characters. Give the poor girls a bit of space. Stop forcing them to sing Edelweiss. No wonder they’re feeling a bit under the weather.
Just a spoonful of eccentricity: Toni Collette in Mental