Forever in my mind as Vinnie the hapless husband from the halcyon days of high school when my mother and I obsessively watched Home and Away after dinner, Ryan Kwanten has done what only a handful of ex-H&A-types have and is now gleefully in the middle of an awesome local and international career. And you can see why—in Griff the Invisible as the titular Griff, he is so far removed from the world of Jason Stackhouse both literally—Griff is an Australian film—and emotionally, as he doesn’t exude the confident ridiculousness of Jason but instead is so put upon and quirky you just want to give him a hug. Or an AFI. Maybe both.
In the dark of night, when crime is creeping up on unsuspecting civilians, the person to save them is Griff: clad in a yellow-and-black suit, strong and brave, he will defend the citizens of his town the best he can. With an amazing security system and cameras all over his neighbourhood, he knows where to go and when to help. But when daytime rolls around, he struggles in normal society. Bullied at work by the mean-spirited Tony, he stammers and blushes his way through social interactions and only slight loosens up around his own brother, Tim. It’s Tim himself who first reveals, holding up a poster of a poorly-drawn representation of the costumed Griff that are plastered around the neighbourhood saying DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN?, that this is not new, and that Griff has been in trouble for this before. And before long, you are left questioning: is he a superhero? Does he have superpowers and a line straight to the unnamed commissioner?
There are a lot of everyday-superhero movies out at the moment, from the recentish Kick-Ass to the very recent Rainn Wilson vehicle Super, and it has become such a genre of its own that I couldn’t even convince my spouse to see it with me, so bored was he of the idea. But the limited scope of Griff—you never go out of the neighbourhoods he works and lives in—means it becomes much more personal and involving, less about action and fight sequences and more about the mental state of its main characters. Along with the painfully shy Griff, there is Melody (Maeve Dermody), Tim’s new love interest and a scientist who believes she should be able to walk through walls. And while it’s Tim who finds Melody at a Chinese takeaway restaurant, it’s she and Griff together, realising almost instantly that they have found a kindred spirit in each other, that make the film so wonderful: they are cuteness personified, laden with quirk and attractive without the overly made-up perfection of Hollywood movies. Despite the superhero plotline, it’s a movie that smacks of familiarity, and can I just say, it is so nice to see an Australian movie that’s not about a) bogans, b) death, or c) bogans dying. There are suitably Australian turns of phrase but with none of the cultural cringe that movies like Sanctum make you suffer from. (The phrase “yum yum chook’s bum” is uttered, but it’s contextually appropriate and kind of funny.) It’s the kind of Australian film you wouldn’t be embarrassed sending to your overseas pals on DVD if not for those pesky regions.
It’s a gorgeous-looking film, with the reveals of Griff’s surroundings over time heartbreaking and simplistic. The camera loves the beautiful Melody, and it’s well-shot even within the confines of the limited areas and spaces used. The soundtrack is good enough to make me go to work and whine that we don’t have it in yet, and the sound design also zippy. The film, however, does drag on a bit, despite its short running time, and goes through so much happy! sad! together! apart! that you’re a bit done with it by the end. There’s also a couple of fun things, like Griff’s fights with steampunkers in alleys, and Melody’s habitual clumsiness, that happen at the start and then vanish towards the end, leaving you feel cheated of the things that made you feel so warm towards it in the first place. But really, it’s the characters that make Griff the Invisible so great, with Tony someone you’d really like to see blasted into space by a cannon (spoiler: this doesn’t happen), Tim someone well-meaning but ultimately painful to talk to (“Anyhooo, we better goooo,” he will say awkwardly), Melody’s concerned but adoring parents (Heather Mitchell and the always utterly utterly fabulous Marshall Napier), and Griff and Melody themselves, superheroes, super weird and a couple to be held in high esteem by outsiders everywhere.
In Summary: Meets Expectations. I couldn’t say it’s the greatest movie of our time, but it is absolutely a sweet little movie to spend an afternoon watching, and then you could go out afterwards and take Melody’s advice: protest a protest, or Google Google. Or go punch a bad guy in the street. Whatever floats your boat.