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Mental

Release date: October 04, 2012
Directed by: P.J. Hogan
Written by: P.J. Hogan
Produced by: Jocelyn Moorhouse, Janet Zucker...
Running time: 116 minutes

A philandering politician (Anthony LaPaglia) with 5 children hires a free-spirited hitchhiker (Toni Collette) after his wife is committed to a mental instituation. Shaz transforms the girls from town jokes into forces to be reckoned with, particularly making a mark on sixteen year old Coral who has never encountered anyone as fearless, cool or reckless before. But Shaz has a secret, and when Coral discovers the real reason Shaz has come to town she must make a decision. Betray her hero, the person who's changed her life - or follow her and become just as crazy.

Cast & Characters

Toni Collette (Sharon Thornbender), Anthony LaPaglia (Barry Moochmore), Kerry Fox (Nancy), Deborah Mailman (Sandra), Rebecca Gibney (Shirley Moochmore), Liev Schreiber (Trevor Blundell), Caroline Goodall (Doris), Lily Sullivan (Coral Moochmore), Bethany Whitmore (Jane Moochmore), Sam Clark (Trout), Nicole Freeman (Leanne Moochmore), Natasha Bassett (Kay), Rob Carlton (Jack), Hayley Magnus (Donna), Chelsea Bennett (Kayleen), Malorie O’Neill (Michelle Moochmore)

Production Notes

As wild as “Mental” sounds, it’s the autobiographical story of director P.J. Hogan himself. The son of a politican, his mother was commited to a mental institution when he was twelve years old. “My dad was running for re-election at the time for the local council, he had her committed… he said no one will vote for a bloke who has a wife that’s crazy so you gotta keep quiet about this, and we did. And he was stuck with us, and his default setting was to never come home but one day on his way to work, when he just couldn’t take it anymore, he stopped and picked up a hitchhiker, this woman with a dog. Looking back I think he trusted her because of the dog, and we came home from school and there she was sitting on the couch with a hunting knife sticking out of her boot. She basically just said “it’s a bit of a mess in here ain’t it”. She just made us clean, and I think I knew that was the starting point…to this day the real Shaz remains the most inspiring and liberating person I’ve ever met in my life. And the craziest.”

Back in the day when Hogan and Collette filmed “Muriel’s Wedding”, he told the actress stories about the real Shaz. “I’d tell the tales of Shaz and Toni would say how great a character she was and how it’d make a great movie, I just didn’t know how to do it. And she’d always bring it up so when I figured out how to tell the story, committed it to paper, I’d hear Toni’s voice as Shaz’s voice and then when I thought I got the script right, I sent it to her and thankfully she said yes. The stars lined up, it brought us together at the right time because Toni is only now just old enough to play the part, because the plot requires her to be the age she is and that’s exactly Toni’s age so I’m glad we had to wait so long.” For Hogan, working with Toni Collette again after almost two decades felt “exactly the same. We picked up exactly where we left off. We travelled the world with Muriel. It was both our first films. We were very green. We owe our careers to it. We always talked about working together again, on this project, because I would do Shaz impersonations for her. For me, she was the only person who could play Shaz. She would always say to me, “Where is the script?” I got very nervous, because as the years went by and Toni became more and more famous, particularly after the Oscar nomination and the Emmy wins and the Tony nominations and oh my God. “She won’t play this; won’t come back to Australia to play this crazy role.” But she did. I think because she knew the character so well.

“The thing about Toni is,” Hogan continues, “I knew she’d get the part; she always got the part because she’s from Blacktown, in Sydney’s western suburbs. She’s known those tough broads who’ve had really tumultuous lives but come out stronger, but a little vulnerable. That was the essence of Shaz. Seemingly strong, but a little weak. Past the knife, and past the “I’ll take you on,” there’s vulnerability there; a need. And a madness. It was a very difficult role for Toni. She makes things look easy though. You look at that role on paper, it’s a tough, tough role, and Toni just absolutely nails it. And you never catch her acting, which I love about Toni’s work.

Review

“Mental” has been widely promoted as a “Muriel’s Wedding” reuinion, since it marks the first time in almost twenty years that director P.J. Hogan and Toni Collette helm a project again. But the similarities to their 1994 classic stop quite early. The setting seems familiar however – a bunch of odd kids suffering of their politician father and a crazy mother. Still, it would be unfair to draw comparisons between two films. “Mental” stands on its own, although not as timeless or memorable as its predecessor. The film’s main problem is that it doesn’t know where to go. At first the “Shaz” character feels like a fantasy character who you wouldn’t meet in real life, let alone allow into your house. But as soon as her character is revealed with own problems close to home – literally – the film’s setting is beginning to feel too far-fetched. Towards the end, the original setting feels scattered and you’re not sure whether Shaz has brought more love to this family, or even more suffering. That being said, “Mental” is still solid entertainment – although times too profane and outrageous to ring true. But Toni Collette commands the film with a performance that requires both the craziness and the quite moments – she succeeds at both. As does the rest of the cast, which is equally good.

Awards & Nominations

☆   Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts – Best Lead Actress
☆   Australian Film Critics Association Awards – Best Actress