Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Release Review: Griff The Invisible (Leon Ford, 2011)

Griff The Invisible is an offbeat Australian romantic comedy/drama written and directed by Leon Ford and starring Ryan Kwanten (True Blood, Red Hill) in the lead role. Premiering at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, Ford's quirky film was well received by audiences, with the consensus praising the charm and warmth of the tale. I found plenty of enjoyment in this 'undeniably Aussie' film. Barring some incredible plot elements, Griff the Invisible is fueled by fine performances from the leads, humorous idiosyncrasies and an outstanding score. An enjoyable experience, it succeeds in balancing the worlds of escapism and fantasy with the often-painful 'reality' with only a few minor stumbles.

The story follows Griff (Kwanten), a nervy and socially awkward office worker who struggles daily to fit in with the rest of the world. His office colleagues ridicule his strange, dreamy behavior, and he becomes the target of bullying, especially from the irritating office jerk, Tony (Toby Schmitz). His only friend is his protective older brother Tim (Patrick Brammall), who has recently moved from Adelaide to Sydney to keep an eye on Griff, who has been prone to erratic behavior in the past. Griff keeps to himself, lives in seclusion and meticulously orchestrates his daily schedule, which is often a direct preparation for his nightly responsibilities, where Griff assumes his crime-fighting secret identity. Under the cover of darkness he becomes Griff the Invisible, his self-appointed superhero who roams the dark streets of his local neighborhood, protecting the innocent residents from shady night stalkers.

Equipped with a full-body invisibility suit and with his house adorned with advanced surveillance technology, he eagerly awaits any chance to answer the distress call of humanity. Tim is slowly growing more frustrated by Griff's eccentric behavior and wants nothing other than for him to wake up and live in the 'real world'. When he spots posters and mannequins around the neighborhood questioning the identity of a masked vigilante roaming the streets, he hopes Griff isn't involved. Through Tim, Griff is introduced to a beautiful young scientist named Melody (the gorgeous Maeve Dermody, Beautiful Kate), who shares Griff's fantasies about the supernatural and his disregard for the rules of reality. She questions the universe around her and tries to devise a way to pass through solid matter, like her bedroom wall. As Griff continues to develop even more elaborate costumes, and takes his nightly missions off the street and into his office (as he devises secret methods to humiliate Tony), the more trouble he finds himself in. He pushes his brother away; he is arrested on suspicion of stalking and is fired from his office job. Only Melody remains committed to him. When he seeks to abandon his fantasy world altogether and finally face the reality of his existence, he finds the superpower he never knew he possessed, the ability to love. Melody's uniqueness has made her a fellow social outcast, and with Griff she finally has found someone she is willing to let into her personal 'bubble', and pair develops a powerful and believable romance. 

Griff the Invisible is filmed primarily in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney, with the scenes in Griff's office shot in the high-rise buildings surrounding Darling Harbor. Central Station and Hyde Park also feature. Ford and his team make effective use of the city, and while it is not shot in a particularly interesting way, some of the special effects are quite impressive. The soundtrack, featuring predominantly songs from local Sydney band, Kids at Risk, accompanies the action perfectly in every scene. The songs were so enjoyable, that I often found them to overwhelm the visuals at times. All the sequences featuring Griff and Melody are excellent, and both Ryan Kwanten and Maeve Dermody give powerful performances, as the pair form an awkward romantic kinship. Griff's withdrawn, child-like personality is full of likable quirks and you really start to feel for him once the film establishes that his superpowers are all in his head. He is only ever comfortable when he pulls on his latex costume, and spends most of his daily existence trying to remain invisible. Following his hilarious role in True Blood and the recent Red Hill, Kwanten has proven his range and versatility. Melody is a curious girl who is genuinely interested in the world around her. While just as withdrawn as Griff, she appears to view the world from within another dimension. With her big glowing eyes, and concerned infatuation with Griff, she is stunningly captured.

The key flaws are in parts of the script, and there are moments that just feel a bit too unrealistic. The pace is also quite one-note, and it visually lacks the drive of its grander audio accompaniment. The office bullying, while not particularly savage in any way (although it does culminate in a beating), seem a bit too juvenile to really be of issue within adult society. Of course Griff is a socially inept and sensitive person, but Tony was acting like he was still in primary school. Tim's relationship with Melody is also endowed with some odd choices. After only one date, Tim is invited over to her place for dinner, where Melody's mother discusses their potential marriage. Whoa! Melody is clearly not interested in Tim, but he remains adamant that they are a couple and refers to her as his girlfriend. Much of the central confusion between Griff and Melody, who clearly are attracted to one another, is over her relationship with Tim. Realistically, there was very little to suggest they were seriously involved, and most of the sequences seemed a bit misguided. It's all a bit too low-key to really be excited about.

While I have heard Griff the Invisible compared to Michael Vaughn's Kick-Ass, presumably because of the theme of a civilian self-appointing himself a superhero, it functions more as a sweet romantic drama that chronicles the destiny of two oddballs. It's a simple, heartfelt story of love, the fragility of humanity and the desire to be accepted for who you are. It is a solid directorial debut from Ford, and a strong early contender for Australian Film of the Year.

My Rating: 3 Stars (C+)


  1. pretty thorough review andy. i really enjoyed this movie. i hope it gets international recognition.

    i find it odd that you would class it as undeniably aussie though. for me this is one of the few australian films that doesn't hit the audience over the head with it's true blueness to the point where i actually forgot i was watching an australian film.

    I don't know if you've had much call to work in an office but i've experienced being around people like tony all too often quite sadly. but you're right though, the scenes were perhaps the main thing to let this film down.

  2. Thanks for the comment Toby. I find it hard when watching Australian films to not recognise their Aussie characteristics. Shot in locations I walk through on occasions, and with Aussie slang prominent in the dialogue, it seems so apparent. That wasn't a negative point, just how I felt.

    I haven't worked in an office, but I'm sure goofballs like Tony exist. I cannot fathom anyone acting like such a little kid at that age, so it felt a little shy of realistic for me. But, overall, I really enjoyed it and I hope it becomes known worldwide, as you say!