REVIEW: Nothing Mental about Aussie hit

I WAS lucky enough to attend the Perth preview screening of Mental which was an eye-opening experience for me, not just because it was the first movie premiere I have been invited to.

Mental , which stars Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Deborah Mailman, Caroline Goodall, Rebecca Gibney, Kerry Fox and Rob Carlton, is a light-hearted but touching film about the Moochmore girls who 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, unable to cope with her demanding daughters and unsupported by her philandering politician husband Barry, suffers a nervous breakdown.

After Barry commits his wife to a mental hospital he finds himself alone with 5 teenage girls he barely knows.

Desperate, he impulsively picks up a charismatic, hot-tempered, inspiring and completely crazy hitchhiker named Shaz and installs her in his home as nanny to his daughters.

Chaos ensues with Shaz transforming the girls, and springing their mother from the mental hospital, although she has secret which threatens to bring all her good work undone.

I found the film very funny, due in part to a superb performance from Collette, but it also made me think. Especially when I discovered it was based on director PJ Hogan’s life.

To discover that this was actually someone’s experience growing up was both very surprising and interesting and I left the cinema with plenty of questions for director PJ Hogan who I was lucky enough to interview the following morning.

He told me that the movie was pretty much unfolds as it happened in his childhood.

“The character of Shaz, played by Toni Collette in the movie, was based on an actual person I met when he was 12,” he said.

“We met under the odd circumstances depicted in the movie – as in my mother had a major nervous breakdown.

“We woke up one morning to find that she was gone and our dad, who was a local councilman running for re-election, said “Your mum’s on holiday, that’s the official story.”

“We knew that she wasn’t on holiday because mum never got a holiday and dad later admitted that he wanted it kept quiet because nobody votes for a bloke whose wife is ‘bonkers’.”

“But, that mean he was stuck with five kids who were total ratbags, like those in the film.

“He must have snapped because he stopped for a hitchhiker, who he trusted because she had a dog, and when we got home from school that day there was this woman sitting on a couch.

“She was rolling a cigarette, hunting knife sticking out of her boot, and she just looked around and said ‘this is a bit of a mess isn’t it’.

But, despite this unorthodox introduction PJ had enormous praise for the original Shaz, who helped him find his identity growing up.

“To this day Shaz remains one of the most inspiring, outrageous and craziest people I have met,” he said.

“When you’re 12 and you don’t fit in, in a small town, you really need a champion.

“Shaz was that person for me.

“She said better to be a black sheep than a sheep – live loud and proud. What you find embarrassing about yourself and what other people laugh at you for now is actually what makes you special.”

PJ said he hopes people will walk out of the cinema after watching Mental feeling like they went on an emotional ride, something he thought was important in a good comedy.

“If it makes people feel just a little bit less crazy, or thinking that they’re crazy, then I’m happy because I feel like no matter how crazy your life might be, the Moochmores had a crazier, or as crazy a life.”

Although PJ said Shaz didn’t approve of him making a movie about her.

“She’s not happy with the movie; she’s not happy with me and has resurfaced on Twitter where she makes this clear.

“You’ll see what I mean if you follow @shazismental,” he said.

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