This home grown comedy-drama tells the story of Shaz (Tony Collette), who is introduced into a family of five girls as hired help, and changes their lives. The film was shot on location in Ballina, NSW, and is very Australian in character.
Refrains from The Sound of Music both begin and end the film to give it a satirical bent, but the movie is unashamedly Australian - from the broad Australian accents of its main players, to the distinctive Aussie features of what makes the Australian culture so familiar.
The family is sent into crisis when a busy politician, Barry Moochmore (Anthony LaPaglia), who is running for Mayor, commits his stressed-out wife, Shirley (Rebecca Gibney), to a mental hospital and tells everyone, including his five children, that she is taking a holiday in Wollongong.
In Shirley’s absence, he finds that he is unable to cope with his precocious daughters, who are determined to behave badly. All of his daughters, including Coral (Lily Sullivan), Jane (Bethany Whitmore) and Leanne (Nicole Freeman) are difficult to control, and nearly all of them think they are suffering from some form of mental illness.
As one of his children says,” I expect to be schizophrenic any day now”. In desperation, he picks up Shaz, who is hitchhiking with her dog in the neighbourhood, and he moves both her and her dog into his house.
Shaz sees herself as “the avenging angel of the perpetually humiliated”, and is more eccentric than the children she is hired to care for. To Shaz, “there is no such thing as normal, only shades of mental”.
The film reunites Tony Collette with PJ Hogan, who was the director of Muriel’s Wedding (1994), and they obviously work well together. Hogan wrote and directed this movie, and Collette brings a touch of over-the-top madness to her bizarre style of mothering. In a comedy that is fast-paced and energetic, there is no shortage of colour in the behaviour of both nanny and family.
This is a film about a family coming together, but it has been made in a way that shows scenes that have earned for it a restricted classification rating. This closes the movie off to young adolescents, who might otherwise have been a target audience - Peter Sheehan, Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, Liev Schrieber, Deborah Mailman, Lily Sullivan, Bethany Whitmore, and Nicole Freeman. Directed by P.J. Hogan. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong coarse language and themes). 116 min.