Fans of True Blood know Ryan Kwanten as Sookie’s buff but not too bright brother, Jason Stackhouse. He plays the role really well, and the writers do a good job with him. But Kwanten isn’t just eye candy. Sometimes, he plays a man with cripplingly-bad social anxiety disorder who just wants to be invisible.
This man is named Griff, and the movie about him is called Griff the Invisible, which I watched last week.
Griff the Invisible is about a young man named Griff who lives alone in Melbourne, Australia, has very defined habits, feeds stray cats, and works in the shipping department of what I believe is an import-export firm called WW Enterprises. He’s overshadowed by his brother Tim, bullied by his co-worker Tony, and pitied by Gary, his boss. But at night, Griff becomes a Batman-like superhero who wears a black suit with a golden G-shaped logo on the chest. He fights evildoers, watches the area, and accepts missions from the police commissioner.
Or does he?
Anyway, as the film progresses, Tim brings by his new girlfriend Melody, who isn’t quite normal herself. She’s a genius of the River Tam stripe, and her ultimate goal seems to be to pass through solid objects — given that there’s so much space between molecules, Melody reasons, why shouldn’t she be able to move her molecules through the molecules of a wall? Oh, and to complicate matters further, Melody’s dad owns the hardware store where Griff gets all his supplies.
Eventually, Griff (and the audience) starts to realize that not all is as it seems in the life of Griff the Invisible, and it’s up to Melody to help him figure out just who he’s supposed to be.
As I said earlier, Griff himself is played by Ryan Kwanten. As bold and brassy as he is when playing Jason Stackhouse, Kwanten manages to overcome that image I have of him (from back when I used to watch True Blood) and really pull off a painfully-awkward, painfully-socially-inept twenty-something. Joining him in the cast is Maeve Dermody as Melody, who, throughout the film, seems to get prettier as she comes out of her shell and begins interacting with Griff. Much in the same way that Emilia Fox did in Cashback, so too does Dermody with her role. Her scenes with Griff and the Universe Suit are wonderful, and she really infuses the role with the right level of emotion and insanity. If she didn’t read for River Tam, she should have.
The cast also includes Patrick Brammall as Tim, Griff’s brother, who accurately communicates the love-hate relationship he has with Griff — he loves his brother, but he hates that his brother seems unable to function on his own. As the film opens, Tim has just come back to Melbourne from Adelaide because Griff “got into some trouble” and needed help. Tim, like so many older siblings, has put a lot of his life on hold to help his family, and Brammall plays it well. He also gives a touch of desperation to his scenes with Melody, especially in the first act, that I think belie the character’s self-confidence — “there but for the Grace of God go I”, and so on. On the other side of that coin is Toby Schmitz as Tony, who plays the one-dimensional womanizing bully that works with Griff and tries to make Griff’s life miserable. There’s nothing really redeeming about the character, even after he receives his come-uppance*. Rounding out the cast:
- David Webb as Griff’s boss, Gary, who clearly wants to step in and defend Griff to Tony, but doesn’t quite know how.
- Heather Mitchell as Bronwyn, Melody’s mom, who clearly is hankering for grandchildren but also displays a similar desperation that we saw in Tim — she wants the best for her daughter, who is also socially-awkward, though not in the same way Griff is.
- Marshall Napier as Benson, Melody’s dad and the owner of the hardware store, who tolerates Griff’s strange behavior because Griff is a good customer and apparently a harmless sort of guy.
Clearly from the casting notes I’ve given already, this film is about social awkwardness and the way it affects different people. Griff, Tim, Melody, Gary, and even Tony all have various forms of anxiety about their lives, and they deal with it in different ways. Griff becomes a superhero, Tim seeks a life-partner, Melody wants someone to understand the world the way she does, Gary wants to help but can’t figure out how to do it without making things worse, and Tony blusters through it by drawing attention to those “worse off” than himself. I think that’s why the film resonates as well as it does with me — while I’m not as socially-awkward as Griff or Melody, I was bullied (though not to the extent Griff was), and I was smart, and I just wanted people to see the world as I saw it. The audience for films like this can nod right along with the various characters, and that’s definitely a win.
The production design was very distinct — lots of high-contrast between bright parts of the world (Griff’s office, Melody’s house, the hardware store) and ones that weren’t so much (the streets of Melbourne and the various rooms in Griff’s apartment, which were lit distinctly with different color schemes). Griff’s suit is very cool, and since we’ve all seen superhero movies before we don’t have to think about how he built it, or how he put together his superhero lair, or why he has six flat-screen computer monitors tracking what’s going on in the city. Direction was adequate throughout — I think more focus was given to the characters than the action scenes, and I’m fine with that — and the music, provided by the group Kids at Risk, was quite enjoyable without being overpowering.
And now, the obligatory spoilers — go to ROT13 to translate them to plaintext:
Gur pbaprcg bs n fhcreureb zbivr jurer gur fhcreureb fghss nyy gnxrf cynpr vafvqr gur znva punenpgre’f urnq vfa’g arj, ohg jung V qvq yvxr nobhg guvf bar jnf gung Tevss jnf npghnyyl uryq nppbhagnoyr sbe uvf npgvbaf. Jr qvqa’g ernyvmr arvgure bs uvf vaivfvovyvgl fhvgf jrer jbexvat hagvy jr fnj gurz ba gur frphevgl pnzren sbbgntr, naq jr gehyl jnagrq Tevss gb fhpprrq guebhtubhg gur zbivr qrfcvgr gur snpg gung (sbe rknzcyr) gur pbaprcg bs hfvat yrzbaf naq onxvat fbqn gb znxr vaivfvoyr snoevp pyrneyl jbhyqa’g jbex. Gura, yngre, jvgu gur Havirefr Fhvg (gur guveq orng va gur gevcglpu), jr fb qrfcrengryl jnagrq Zrybql’f perngvba gb znxr Tevss vaivfvoyr gung, jura Zrybql’f sngure fnj Tevss cynva nf qnl, vg jnf gehyl urnegoernxvat.
V unys-rkcrpgrq gung, qhevat gur svany svtug frdhrapr, Tevss naq Zrybql jbhyq fyvc vagb n jbeyq jurer nyy bs guvf jnf erny (Zrybql qvfphffrq gung cbffvovyvgl rneyvre va gur svyz.) Ohg abguvat — ABGUVAT — cercnerq zr sbe Zrybql npghnyyl snyyvat guebhtu gur qbbe ng gur raq. Gung jnf oevyyvnag.
Overall I found Griff the Invisible to be a movie about social anxiety masquerading as a superhero film. As a superhero film, it was passable at best; however, when taken as a whole, I think the exploration of the various forms of social anxiety and the way we (and society) deal with them put this film a little higher than your average “office worker is a superhero in his spare time” film. The movie is available on Netflix Instant, so if you’re already paying your eight bucks a month, it’s there for you to watch. I do recommend taking a look, especially if you think that any of the five main characters sound even a little like you. You’ll be surprised at just how familiar they are.
And you’ll wonder how you stayed invisible all this time.
Note to Parents: This film contains adult language and non-sexual adult situations, as well as bullying and violence (including a very uncomfortable beat-down scene). I’d say anyone who can handle a PG-13 film can handle this (regardless of age), although it could be disheartening for younger viewers to learn the truth: that bullying doesn’t stop just because you grow up, and that even in the real world no one does anything about it. It sucks, but it’s true. Anyway, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your kids.
* It’s a superhero movie. You know it’s going to happen from the moment you meet Tony on-screen.