By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 27, 2011)
While the “outsider” is a well-established archetype in film, a new sub-genre has emerged in recent years. It’s perhaps best described as “Revenge of the Nerds: The Millennial Generation Re-boot”; a little bit mumble core, with a touch of character study and magical realism (steeped in hipster irony). The protagonist is usually a quirky, socially awkward daydreamer who pines for love and understanding, but despite best efforts to connect, comes off as, well, a dork.
Frequently, our hero or heroine is ridiculed and/or bullied by others, prompting deeper retreat into a private universe, or the creation of an alter ego who then (figuratively or literally) “defeats” their tormentors. Think: Office Killer, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Amelie, Secretary, Muriel’s Wedding, Ghost World, Lars and the Real Girl, Napoleon Dynamite, Eagle vs. Shark and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Now you can add Australian import Griff the Invisible to that list.
20-something Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is an introverted Sydney office drone one or two symptoms shy of an Asperger’s diagnosis. The more he tries to make himself “invisible”, the more he incites the office bully (Toby Schmitz) to cruelly prank him in front of his co-workers. Poor Griff hasn’t figured out that most basic tenet of social anthropology-the more you assimilate, the less attention you draw to yourself . His only solace comes in the form of an alter ego, “Griff the Protector”. A legend in his own mind, Griff the Protector is a nocturnal crime-fighter, who takes names and kicks ass.
The Sydney police have been receiving numerous complaints from Griff’s neighbors about some weirdo running around at night wearing a rubber superhero suit, peering into windows and creeping people out. “Oh no, you’re not doing it again, are you?” asks Griff’s concerned older brother Tim (Patrick Brammall), implying that Griff has had a history of difficulty delineating reality from fantasy.
You can tell that Tim (the “responsible” sibling) cares about his brother, but is at the end of his rope as to how he’s going to drag Griff out of his arrested development and into adult life (kicking and screaming) . Besides, he has his own life to live, with a career, a bright future and a new girlfriend named Melody (Maeve Dermody).
However, as we get to know Melody, we wonder if she’s hooked up with the “right” brother. For example, whenever Tim starts prattling on about plans for the future, Melody tends to drift off, fixing her gaze on an indeterminate point somewhere on the horizon. And when it’s time to say “good night”, her quick pull away when Tim tries to give her a peck doesn’t bode well for the couple’s future, either.
The only time Melody gets jazzed is when she’s alone, reading up on particle physics. She has become obsessed with the possibilities of passing a human body through solid matter. She has been practicing the trick on her bedroom wall; needless to say, she’s been sustaining head injuries-which could explain the “drifting off” thing. So, are these two kooks (Griff and Melody) going to end up together?
This is the first feature film for writer-director Leon Ford, and while it’s a bit uneven, Kwanten and Dermody have great screen chemistry and lend charm to the film. However, the characters, as written, teeter precariously between “endearingly quirky” and “mentally ill” (you’re torn between cheering them on and wishing someone would whisk them both off for a psych evaluation).
That aside, Ford’s film is a diverting enough 90 minutes, as long as you don’t set expectations too high. And the film’s message, which is something along the lines of: Who cares what people believe about you, as long as you have someone in your life who truly believes in you…is certainly an encouraging one, nu?