Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

Finding a more proudly Australian film than Mental in 2012 will be a challenge. Writer and director, PJ Hogan, of Muriel’s Wedding fame has once again delivered with his darkly comic new film. Mental is what he likes to think of as a ‘whole-meal comedy’ rather than one of the all too common ‘dessert comedies’ floating around Hollywood at the moment. Had I not seen this irreverent film before Hogan spoke to us about it, I probably would not have understood the sentiments he was expressing. The description is apt though, Mental is a message told through the medium of comedy rather than a comedy existing for entertainment value alone.

The Moochmore household is fraying; each of the seven members holding on to sanity and each other by a tenuous thread. Barry Moochmore has not had dinner with his family since his eldest daughter, Coral, tried to kill herself. His wife, Shirley, is struggling with the responsibility of looking after their five daughters and, wishing that her life was happier, she finds comfort in The Sound of Music. Living with a mother who thinks she’s in a musical and a father who can’t tell his children apart, the five Moochmore girls self-diagnose mental illnesses because ‘if they’re not mental then they’re just unpopular’.

When Shirley suffers a breakdown that even Barry cannot ignore, he checks her into a mental institution. Unable to cope with the children he barely knows, he comes across Shaz, a hitchhiker who agrees to nanny the girls.

Every aspect of Mental pulls together near perfectly to make it a comedy with emotional and spiritual integrity. While the laughs come thick and fast, the themes of sanity, insanity and family add depth. As entertaining as Mental is, it opens up the ideas of mental health, leaving audiences with a wealth of subjects to consider and discuss. It doesn’t confine itself to the light fun bits of life either, instead balancing precariously on the fine line between tragedy and comedy.

Though comedy serves this film so strongly in many ways, it also weakens some of the moments that could have delivered much more of an emotional punch. Looking at something as frightening and lonely as mental illness with humour succeeds in pushing an issue that is all too often disregarded into the spotlight. Through most of the film and with most of the characters it works. Some scenes, however, do suffer because of previous humorous treatment. Because Malorie O’Neill’s character, Michelle’s, schizophrenia is regarded in a humorous way through the film; it becomes difficult to reconcile with the stark reality of her illness when it surfaces.

The cast work brilliantly together. They play genuinely flawed, sympathetic and believable characters, all of whom are very different. Despite the diversity, the chemistry between the actors is perfect. Toni Collette’s performance is especially good. As always she raises the bar for all everyone else, and they rise to the challenge magnificently. Four of the five girls playing the Moochmore children are new to acting but, from their performances, which four is anyone’s guess.

There is a strongly Australian feel to Mental. In many ways it could be considered a companion piece to Muriel’s Wedding. Both revolve around music, there is the same sense of small-minded, small-town community and no shortage of whacky characters with their own goals and insecurities. While Muriel’s Wedding suited the strong friendship focus of the mid-nineties however, Mental is thoroughly modern. The connection between family members is stronger and, while there is still emphasis on the importance of self-confidence, the characters have more support whilst finding themselves.

This is a fresh, fun take on a serious issue that affects far too many people. It unapologetically broaches subjects that are still taboo, utilising humour to keep it from getting too heavy. It’s for everyone who has never quite fitted in. And for everyone who has ever been embarrassed by their family; or worse, been the embarrassment, this is the movie for you.

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

For the first time the foxy morons of Fountain Lakes are hitting our big screens with Kath and Kimderella. Set principally in Italy. Kath says it is the movie into which they have poured their ‘heart, soul, costumes and beautiful bodies – except for Sharon’.

When Kath Day-Knight wins a holiday to the Italian Kingdom of Papilloma, she is delighted. Kel is afraid of flying, however, so instead of a chance to spice up their flagging marriage; Kath is forced to take her spoilt daughter, Kim, along. Kim’s second-best friend, Sharon, joins them and the three set off for an all-girls holiday.

Finding that their hotel has closed, the trio are welcomed into King Javier’s (Rob Sitch) luxurious castle. But in idyllic Papilloma, not all is as it seems. The people live in poverty while King Javier sets his sights on Kath as a rich tourist. Alain, the mysterious page played by Richard E. Grant, regularly disappears into the dungeons, and the prince skulks the halls wearing a mask.

Kath and Kimderella is parody and fractured fairy-tale all rolled into one. While it has all of the characters and humour that audiences have come to expect from the TV series, there is so much more. While many sitcoms make the mistake of keeping the same formula when they go to the big screen, Kath and Kimderella breaks free of that. With an entirely new setting, a dash of fresh faces and all of the allusions to fairy-tales; there is no way that this movie could be written off as an extra-long TV episode.

Performances are good across the board. Jane Turner (Kath) and Gina Riley (Kim) stand out with their comedic timing and seeming ability to know exactly how far to push the joke. Magda Szubanski again plays a brilliant Sharon. But it is with the supporting cast that the performances reach another level. While Rob Sitch and Richard E. Grant have a presence about them that is distinctive from the characters we love in Kath and Kim, they manage to work their acting styles together to complement the original cast.

With enough set-up for people who are new to Kath and Kim, the pacing is fast enough to keep the interest of regular watchers. As silly as Kath and Kimderella can be, it’s an incredibly fun journey that fans will love.

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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