Mental

There’s a long tradition of movies aimed squarely at kids who feel like outsiders, films about embracing what makes you different, even amid the cruel, pro-conformity landscape of suburbia. But by definition, these pictures can be few and far between for any given viewer in the midst of surviving teenage hell -- how many of these life-giving movies can...read more

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Reviewed by Cammila Collar
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There’s a long tradition of movies aimed squarely at kids who feel like outsiders, films about embracing what makes you different, even amid the cruel, pro-conformity landscape of suburbia. But by definition, these pictures can be few and far between for any given viewer in the midst of surviving teenage hell -- how many of these life-giving movies can possibly hit theaters before you make it to graduation? Luckily, young viewers can get a mega dose of Dare to be Different Cinema with a single screening of the 2012 Australian entry into the genre, Mental, a flick so ballsy, wild, and over-the-top that it could sustain any proud iconoclast for quite a while.

Some may remember writer/director P.J. Hogan for his quirky 1994 sleeper hit Muriel’s Wedding. Another treatise on the power of being unlike those around you, the film starred a then-22-year-old Toni Collette as the hopelessly strange Muriel, whose emotionally stunted parents and shallow, mall-zombie community made her feel like a loser until she learned the vital lesson of all not-like-the-others protagonists: You don’t fit in because you’re better than these idiots. Well, almost 20 years later, Collette is now playing the veteran nonconformist of the cast, leading a family of terminally strange sisters toward that same mountaintop of self-actualization.

We get to know all five of the Moochmore sisters, but the main character is 16-year-old Coral (Lily Sullivan), who is the one most often forced to take care of business -- however ineptly -- when their sweet but incapable mother (Rebecca Gibney) goes off the psychological deep end and starts singing show tunes in the backyard while their distant father (Anthony LaPaglia), the womanizing mayor of their trashy, cultureless town, is taking one of his usual two-three week unexplained absences. Being the eldest, Coral has been imbibing the family’s dysfunction the longest and is proportionately miserable, though all of the Moochmore sisters are so desperate for a way to understand their outcast status -- particularly compared to their neat-freak neighbor and perfectionist, doll-making aunt -- that they assume the acidic taunts they receive all the time are true, and that like their mom, they are each some flavor of “mental.”

When mom’s issues finally come to a head and land her in the local psych ward, it’s out of the question for their dad to abandon his reelection campaign (and many hot female staffers) and stay home to take care of his daughters. So he picks up a mysterious bohemian/biker chick named Shaz (Collette) and brings her home to be the girls’ nanny. But what he doesn’t know is that Shaz is more than just a free spirit with a bowie knife tucked into her cowboy boot who’ll look after his girls for dirt cheap: She’s a revolutionary nonconformist who immediately recognizes her destiny to set the Moochmore sisters straight. They aren’t crazy, she teaches them, but the next step in human evolution. It’s the rest of their shallow, gossipy town that are crazy. Like a ferocious Mary Poppins, Shaz leads her charges on wild adventures to prove to them their power, like midnight climbs up the side of a mountain and barging in on that cleanliness-obsessed neighbor and her sparkling-white couch on the day all the girls have their period.

The story is told with hyperactive energy and unapologetically broad humor. Fans of Muriel’s Wedding will remember the obnoxious neon colors and unrelentingly cartoonish style that made that film such a fun ride, and Mental is even more wild and crazy, packing every scene with enough chaotic sensory overload to fully illustrate just how easy it can be for life to drive you insane. Hogan never pauses for a breath between scenes, and certainly never shies away from letting the antics get deliciously coarse -- especially if that means Shaz lighting a fart on fire or shoving some snippy mean girl’s face into a jelly donut. Maybe Hogan shaped his filmmaking style for this picture around Collette’s million-megahertz interpretation of her character’s radical behavior, or maybe it was the other way around, but regardless, the result is a new classic Teen Misfit Movie that looms as large as the continent it came from.

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  • Released: 2012
  • Review: There’s a long tradition of movies aimed squarely at kids who feel like outsiders, films about embracing what makes you different, even amid the cruel, pro-conformity landscape of suburbia. But by definition, these pictures can be few and far between for a… (more)

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