Review: Mental (2012)

0

mental1


Cast: Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber
Director: P.J. Hogan
Country: USA | Australia
Genre: Comedy | Drama
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: Mental opens in limited release today, March 29th. If you’ve already seen the film we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you’re looking forward to seeing it this weekend, please tell us in the comments section below or in our new Next Projection Forums.

Does sensitivity cease to be a prerequisite in the handling of difficult subject matter when that subject is one with which the handler is personally familiar? It seemed to be Spike Lee’s assertion in his complaints about Django Unchained that its exploitation framework made light of an issue that wasn’t Tarantino’s to address. It’s a question immediately raised in Mental, an aggressively silly comedy from Australian writer/director J.P. Hogan, whose tale of the five teenage Moochmoore sisters and the hot-headed hitchhiker their philandering father hires to care for them after his overworked wife succumbs to a long-overdue mental breakdown finds basis in his own experience with family members suffering from mental illness.

Hogan’s deliriously farcical approach might be admired for its unabashed dedication to decrying all sentiment, but its overblown theatricality and relentless zaniness ultimately do more harm than good, the lightness of its touch not so much normalising mental illness—as, with good will, we might assume it intends—as writing it off entirely.

mental3Opening on an exuberant musical number, the camera swooping in over verdant hills to focus on one solitary yard in this oversaturated suburban sprawl, Mental could never be accused of approaching its central issue with any degree of delicacy. Hogan’s deliriously farcical approach might be admired for its unabashed dedication to decrying all sentiment, but its overblown theatricality and relentless zaniness ultimately do more harm than good, the lightness of its touch not so much normalising mental illness—as, with good will, we might assume it intends—as writing it off entirely. It’s clear than Hogan himself has experience only from others; his presentation of the challenges of mental illness is flippant at best, imagining the manifestations of serious delusion and schizophrenia as little more than cute personality quirks.

It would help his film seem a little less offensive in its brashness were Hogan’s script more dramatically satisfying or, better yet, remotely funny. His humour is unyieldingly petulant, the kind of manically inclined pantomime that finds mass menstruation the height of comedy. There’s a fine line between bawdiness and bad taste; Mental is often so far over that line that it’s long disappeared over the horizon. Its strangely skewed and frankly dismissive perspective on mental illness seems positively blasé in comparison to the detours it takes through rape gags and other such comic graveyards. Hogan’s transgressive intent is appreciable; his subsequent approach is little more than deplorable.

There’s a fine line between bawdiness and bad taste; Mental is often so far over that line that it’s long disappeared over the horizon. Its strangely skewed and frankly dismissive perspective on mental illness seems positively blasé in comparison to the detours it takes through rape gags and other such comic graveyards.

mental4There’s a point in the film where Shaz—the hitchhiker-cum-babysitter played, seemingly of her own volition, by Hogan’s Muriel’s Wedding collaborator Toni Collette—is seen watching the long-running children’s series Bananas in Pyjamas, a moment that might easily be seen as Hogan’s nod to a key influence. Those colourful fruits, in their brightly coloured world of feckless fantasy, are far more grounded and relatable characters than any we encounter in the course of Mental. Traces of depth remain, in the genuine handling of one sister’s issues—confined though they are to mere moments of screen time, in which they often form the butt of a joke—and the sense of empowerment arguably attained in the girls’ mother’s confrontation with her husband, yet Hogan sacrifices even these in a ludicrously inappropriate coda that not only confuses the sexual politics of the narrative, but subjects the serious issues at the film’s core to yet another frivolous mishandling.

Deep down, tucked somewhere beneath its garish layers of farce and flippancy, Mental truly has something meaningful it wishes to say. In early scenes of these sisters wilfully self-diagnosing, in its passably amusing—if extremely limited—political satire, even in its woefully misguided humour, this is a film that wants to impact representation of mental health. Perhaps it’s precisely for his closeness to the issue that Hogan can’t see quite how deleterious his approach makes him, quite how much his supercilious silliness degrades and debases that it efforts to enrich. It’s not Mental’s intent to be a hideously unfunny and awkwardly affrontive experience, but that doesn’t change the fact that, for all the earnestness Hogan may claim, it really is.

[notification type=”star”]25/100 ~ PAINFUL. It’s not Mental’s intent to be a hideously unfunny and awkwardly affrontive experience, but that doesn’t change the fact that, for all the earnestness Hogan may claim, it really is.[/notification]

Share.

About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.