Vibrantly shot and shot through with vulgarity, Mental reunites PJ Hogan with his Muriel's Wedding leading lady, Toni Collette for a subversive and downright hilarious look at mental health, suburban conformity and what lies beneath the supposed norms. Surprisingly, the film is based on Hogan's own childhood - in that when he was 12 his mother had a breakdown which is politician father kept secret so as not to ruin his chances at the local election. His father picked up a hitcher and subsequently placed this ballsy unconventional woman in charge of looking after his children, one of whom - Hogan's sister - had schizophrenia.
At the film's heart is a fabulously fierce and uncompromising character performance from Collette that veers from laugh out loud funny to deeply emotionally affecting. She's ably assisted by some superb performances from the child actresses who make the coming of age strands of the story a believable delight, whilst there's essentially cameos from the likes of Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Fox and Rebecca Gibney.
I've read some pretty poor reviews of this and frankly I just don't see it. I don't find it offensive towards mental illness as some have suggested; being a sufferer myself and someone who has worked in the counselling profession I found its look on the issue wonderfully refreshing. Yes it's blackly comic, but maybe that's why I like it - after all, anyone who has worked in mental health has a sense of humour that's blacker than Newgate's knocker - but it's also a feelgood movie. I also appreciate Hogan raising some important and often ignored issues (not just mental health but also Australia's race relations) and his encouraging discussion, without feeling like a sermon, as a result.
If there's any fault it's perhaps the fact that the film seems to uncomfortably straddle quirky indie feature and multiplex offering. It firmly belongs in the former rather than the latter camp and Hogan could have firmly entrenched it in that field more, as witnessed by its wry, irreverent take on the tropes featured in The Sound of Music.
Overall, Mental is a great watch but maybe not for everyone. It has at its core the same sentiment I have towards mental illness; as I have always said 'one man's normal, is another man's insane'