Yes, that’s ‘mental’ as in the nasty and offensive term to describe someone with mental health problems. Now, no one is going to mistake Aussie director P J Hogan for a bigot – the big-hearted message of his comedy is about marching to your own beat, however irregular. But someone should have persuaded him to ditch that tasteless title. Wrong is wrong. And ‘Mental’ gets it wrong in too many ways. Shame, because somewhere here are the ingredients for a kooky crowd-pleaser like ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, the 1994 film that launched Hogan’s career and first got actress Toni Collette noticed.
Collette is back as Shaz, who descends on the Moochmore household just as mum Shirley is carted off to a psychiatric unit. Shaz, a hippie with a knife stashed in her boot and a dog called Ripper, is hardly Mary Poppins, but she takes charge of the family’s five troubled teenage daughters. They’re known locally as a bunch of weirdos, but – what do you know – a little self-esteem and they shine up like new pennies.
The biggest laughs, and there’s a healthy helping of them, are sharp digs at the narrow-minded misogynist corners of suburban Australia. The girls’ dad, a sleazy mayor played by Anthony LaPaglia, curses his brood of girls. ‘Boys have mental health problems too’, one of them answers back. ‘Not Australian boys. They’re too busy playing football.’ All good stuff, but the comedy goes off the leash, tipping into wacky fever-pitch farce. As for the story, like an unguided missile, it’s all over the place. Collette, the trooper, does her best, but one scene involving period blood on a white sofa is one of the most crashingly unfunny you’ll see in a while.