IoS film review 2: Mental
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2
The hitchhiker's guide to staying sane and celebrating dysfunction
Sunday 18 November 2012
It's been 18 years since P J Hogan made Muriel's Wedding – there are people at university who weren't even born then. Hogan has since had a decent Hollywood career, with films including My Best Friend's Wedding and Peter Pan, but you can understand if his last project, the underwhelming Confessions of a Shopaholic, was enough to send him to back to his home turf.
That's where he is with Mental. Not only has he reunited with Toni Collette, but he's set his new film slap bang in the middle of Muriel's Wedding territory: an Australian backwater full of sleazy politicians and Stepford Wives with homes that are even more garish than their orange tans. Its heroines are five sisters whose mother (Rebecca Gibney) is sent to a mental hospital, driven to frazzled despair by her failure to mould them into the Von Trapp family. The girls' philandering father (Anthony LaPaglia) is too busy with his mayoral re-election campaign to look after them – or even, in an excellent running gag, to remember which of them is which – so he decides to hire a random hitchhiker (Collette) to be their nanny, never mind her vicious dog or the Bowie knife in her cowboy boot.
As unwise as that would seem, Collette's tough-talking mystery woman turns out to be just the person the girls need. Even though they're attached to their "mental" self-image, she teaches them that they're the only sane people in town: the real cases for treatment are a neighbour (Kerry Fox) who cleans her drive with a toothbrush, an aunt (Caroline Goodall) who cares more about her porcelain dolls than her relatives, and an enigmatic shark hunter (Liev Schreiber, with a bonzer Australian accent).
Hogan can't quite keep tabs on all his many characters and storylines. And in contrast with the film's energetic unruliness, Collette's sermons about being unconventional are, well, pretty conventional. But Mental is still a deliciously pungent and idiosyncratic comedy drama, with reams of quotable dialogue, and a powerful undercurrent of pain and loneliness which makes its happier scenes all the more uplifting. Its protagonists deserve to be the most beloved dysfunctional family in indie movies since Collette co-starred in Little Miss Sunshine. And it's certainly Hogan's best film in 18 years.
Harry Potter has a lot to answer for. Following the example of the Hogwarts mega-franchise, the last of Stephenie Meyer's four Twilight novels has been split into two films, the latter of which is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. You could argue that the producers are doing the series' "twi-hard" fans a favour by letting them luxuriate in Meyer's twinkly romantic fantasy for as long as they possibly can. But as the film drags on and on, it's hard to believe that those producers had anything on their minds but profit. In two hours, all we get is a trailer's worth of bloodless decapitation, preceded by hundreds of pointless scenes, in which the heroes invite vampires from around the world to stay with them, and hundreds of other scenes in which Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and co drape themselves around the pristine living room of their designer mansion. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is the place where the vampire movie meets the knitwear catalogue.
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