dir-scr PJ Hogan
prd Todd Fellman, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Janet Zucker, Jerry Zucker
with Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Rebecca Gibney, Lily Sullivan, Sam Clark, Malorie O'Neill, Bethany Whitmore, Chelsea Bennett, Nicole Freeman, Kerry Fox, Deborah Mailman
release Aus 4.Oct.12, UK 16.Nov.12
12/Australia 1h56
Probably unhinged: Collette and Sullivan

schreiber lapaglia fox
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mental Nearly 20 years after Muriel's Wedding, Hogan reunites with Collette for another Aussie black comedy. They pack far too much into the story for everything to work, but the film is consistently smart, funny and endearing as it builds to a series of raucous climactic scenes.

Since her family refuses to fit her image of Von Trapp perfection, Sound of Music-obsessed housewife Shirley (Gibney) is losing her mind. Which is ironic since her five daughters think they're mentally ill as well. When Shirley ends up in a looney bin, her womanising-politician husband (LaPaglia) enlists drifter Shaz (Collette) to watch the girls. As Shaz unconventionally starts giving them a bit of self-respect, teen daughter Coral (Sullivan) gets a job at a shark exhibit run by salty fisherman Trevor (Schreiver) and is wooed by guitar-playing surfer dude Trout (Clark).

Packed with snarky references to The Sound of Music, including the witty pre-title sequence, the film positions Collette as a deranged Maria with Mary Poppins overtones, helping the girls see that they're not the only ones with mental health issues. Indeed, everyone who sneers at them turns out to be more unstable than they are. And of course, Shaz doesn't stop there, diving in to ruffle the neighbours, shake up Shirley's marriage and sort out her own demons.

Even as things get very dark, Hogan keeps the tone bright and colourful, with pointed dialog that's guffaw-inducing. Sometimes the script goes over the top into idiotic slapstick (a female invasion into obsessive-compulsive neighbour Fox's house is a bit too much), but other scenes are quietly subversive and insightful. And along with some serious dramatic moments, there's an astute take on how society relies on therapy and drugs to keep everyone on an even keel.

The acting is also cleverly graded, as Gibney, Sullivan and the other sisters are the only actors who play it straight. Everyone else bursts with cartoonish wackiness while letting us glimpse the real people underneath. And it's the film's honest underpinnings that keep us rooting for the characters. Some of the plot threads never quite resolve themselves, and a key action scene is badly botched, but Hogan and his cast engage us right to the final sting.

cert 15 themes, strong language, violence, drugs 12.Nov.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall