STARRING: Toni Collette, Rebecca Gibney, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Shreiber, Lily Sullivan
RATING: 1.5 star

For a film based largely on real life events, Mental was too weird to be believable. Australian writer/director P. J. Hogan, who gave us Muriel's Wedding, had an unusual childhood. Family members with various mental illnesses and an unusual, mentally unstable role model were among the people that shaped Hogan's early years, and it seems they continue to influence and inspire him today. He has used the roller coaster of emotions that go with mental instability as a platform to explore mental illness - including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and others - in a funny and serious way. Mental should have been a fantastic film. It has an impressive cast, a good idea and it means well. Unfortunately, Mental lost the plot and did not work at all.

The film opens with Shirley Moochmore (Rebecca Gibney) singing the title song from The Sound of Music. We learn that Shirley may be mentally unstable and her five daughters think they might be too. But the family is trying to protect their public image because Shirley's husband Barry (Anthony LaPaglia) is running for mayor. He sends his wife to a mental institution and finds Shaz (Toni Collette) hitch-hiking on the side of a road, and brings her into his house to care for his children. But there's something not quite right about Shaz. While she helps the girls embrace their own "crazy" it seems she might actually be the one is who is "mental" and needs saving.

I thought Mental was going to end about five times before it finally did. That's how disjointed and messy the storytelling was. Without a clear idea about what the plot was, you never quite knew when you had reached a resolution. I also got bored with the constant moral lesson being preache
d that we are all a little bit "mental" and that's what makes us great. However, it wasn't all bad. The shark analogy and Sound of Music references were good, although they sometimes went too far. Speaking of going too far, there is one scene which involves menstrual bleeding on white couches that was both disgusting and unnecessary. There was also a rape reference, which was so offensive, I nearly walked out. There is no way to make rape funny.
The best aspect of the film was the acting. Everyone gave fantastic performances including a singing, dancing and unusually overweight Gibney who carried the first part of the film. The girls who play her children including Coral (Lily Sullivan), Michelle (Malorie O’Neill), Leanne (Nicole Freeman), Kayleen (Chelsea Bennett) and Jane (Bethany Whitmore) were also very impressive. It's hard to believe this was Sullivan's first film because she was great. Sam Clark, who plays Coral's love interest, was also fun to watch, as was Deborah Mailman who provided some great laughs. LaPaglia also gave a solid performance, while Collette seemed to be channelling one of her United States of Tara characters. But it was Liev Schreiber who stole the film with his flawless Australian accent playing Coral's boss, Trevor Blundell.

I really wanted to like Mental. It's obvious that the issue and bizarre semi-autobiographical story of Hogan's childhood affected him greatly and this is an important film for him. He said he made this film for Australians. Unfortunately, it appears he tried a little too hard to make light of a serious issue and left us with a confusing, weird and ultimately uninspiring film.