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In 1994, Australian director PJ Hogan and actress Toni Collette teamed up for the story of a misfit determined to break out of her go-nowhere town and find love amid a backdrop of Abba songs. Muriel's Wedding was an indie sensation, bringing Collette to the attention of American audiences for the first time and (along with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that same year) sparking the Abba revival that would culminate in Mamma Mia!, and aren't we all so happy that happened?
Anyway, almost 20 years after Muriel, Hogan and Collette are teaming up again, not on a sequel, but a brand new movie set in that same small-town Australian milieu. While Muriel could not wait to get out of Porpoise Spit, Mental takes place in Dolphin Heads. While Muriel was a young woman driven to occasionally nutty behavior by the stresses of singlehood (hey, it was the '90s), Mental features a mother of five who's actually carted off to the loony bin, leaving her children to be cared for by a wild-child drifter played by Collette.
The trailer suggests a Sound of Music motif for the mother in much the same way that Abba was a totem for Muriel, which makes it funny that Collette's drifter plays more like a punky Mary Poppins. The film suggested by the trailer seems like a total mess, to be honest. But the thing about a PJ Hogan movie is that you never can tell.
Hogan's career trajectory since Muriel has been difficult to pin down. My Best Friend's Wedding, his best post-Muriel film, often gets dismissed as a typical Julia Roberts romantic comedy, which does a disservice to how well Hogan worked within the established rom-com formula to deliver a movie with moments of true unpredictability. No small feat, that.
Peter Pan never caught on with the American public like it was expected to, but it stuck to its artistic guns. Confessions of a Shopaholic features a truly unsung Kristin Scott Thomas performance but almost nothing else of worth. It seems now more important than ever to cherish filmmakers who can make mainstream non-action films that don't suck, not to put too fine a point on it, and you have to wonder if Hogan is fading into irrelevance. Mental opens in theaters and VOD on March 29th in the U.S., and here's hoping he can once again make the silly look sublime.
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