The Aussie hills are alive, mate

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILMREVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

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

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