The Moochmore girls are certain they all suffer from some kind of undiagnosed mental illness - because if they're not crazy then they're just unpopular. Their mother Shirley (Rebecca Gibney) - unable to cope with her demanding daughters and unsupported by her philandering politician husband, Barry (Anthony LaPaglia) - suffers a nervous breakdown. After Barry commits his wife to a mental hospital (telling his constituents that "she's on holiday") he finds himself alone with 5 teenage girls he barely knows. Desperate, he impulsively picks up a hitchhiker named Shaz (Toni Collette) and installs her in his home as nanny to his daughters.
A story steeped in social expectations, family relationships and mental health Muriel’s Wedding writer and director P.J Hogan’s latest feature Mental is not unlike the tragi-comedy offered up to us in his 1994 success.
With what, from the write up, looked to be a rather unpleasant and broad comedy that smacked somewhat of the tedious but nevertheless abundant Eddie Murphy in drag movies, Mental is actually a well written exploration of the subtleties of human nature that poses intriguing and challenging questions to it’s audience throughout.
Once again Toni Colette stars as Hogan’s leading lady, this time playing nanny Shaz to a family of daughters whose father, an adulterous politician, brings her in after their mother has some kind of nervous breakdown. Though Colette’s larger than life character fills both plot and screen she does not steal all the limelight, overall in fact it was a very well cast and brilliantly performed piece in which both key and fringe characters are developed with bizarre obsessions, coping mechanisms or Freudian acts of rebellion. By and large these idiosyncrasies give the characters a depth and individualism many films struggle to develop in their runtime; however there are occasions even here where even the songs of The Sound of Music seem somewhat jarring and alienating.
Overall I genuinely enjoyed this movie, I think largely because I did not expect to, there is something inherently Australian about it: a quasi-European-ness without quite so much sarcasm or social grace, but with more depth and challenging discomfort than any Hollywood attempt at the subject matter.