Griff the Invisible - SideReel Review
Being different can be lonely. So lonely that sometimes we get lost in our own thoughts, and forget what it means to be a part of the outside world. But while it may sometimes feel as if the things that make us different are the things that prevent us from truly connecting with others, it’s often the case that our quirks are what draw others to us in the first place -- those little, telling sparks of personality that make us unique and identify us as someone worth knowing.
In Griff the Invisible, True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten plays a bullied, delusional office worker who drifts into a rich world of fantasy due to the fact that he can’t seem to fit into his surroundings -- and he does it with such conviction that any residue of his himbo character on the aforementioned HBO vampire series instantly dissipates. Viewers who have never seen Kwanten play anyone other than Jason Stackhouse are sure to be impressed with the emotionally complex performance, though the rest of the cast of Griff the Invisible is equally impressive, expanding the depth of writer/director Leon Ford’s charming yet challenging screenplay in a way that feels both honest and entirely naturalistic -- even when we’re seeing things that are questionably real.
When we first meet Griff, he’s standing at the window of his upper-level Melbourne flat, keeping watch over the moonlit streets by means of his complex master control room, and swooping down to the streets at the first sign of danger. Later, when the sun rises, the brave real-life superhero assumes the identity of a mild-mannered cubicle monkey who uses an invisibility suit and some high-tech gadgets to get revenge on Tony (Toby Schmitz), the philandering office bully. Meanwhile, Griff’s brother, Tim (Patrick Brammall), has just moved back to Melbourne from Adelaide to keep an eye on his mischievous sibling -- who recently got fired from his previous job and has a known history of running around the streets at night in a superhero costume. Tim has just begun dating Melody (Maeve Dermody), a shy pseudoscientist who’s become convinced that the spaces in our cellular structure will allow us to pass through walls if the timing is just right. When Melody starts to gravitate toward Griff, however, he fears that his secret identity is in danger of being exposed. But Melody is more like Griff than he could ever imagine, and the closer they get, the deeper their bond grows, thanks to their unique ways of looking at life.
In the past few years, movies like Kick-Ass, Defendor, Special, Super, and now Griff the Invisible have made the homespun superhero saga something of a fast-growing subgenre. Perhaps the reason people have connected with these films is due to an increasing sense of uncertainty and powerlessness in a world shaken by economic downturns, increasingly hostile politics, and riots in the streets. In many of those movies, as in this one, the main characters are people who feel invisible to society, and find strength in their anonymity once they’re suited up and ready to fight crime. Ford’s screenplay is especially effective in exploring this aspect of the human psyche, occasionally bringing up profound existential questions within the context of a gentle romantic comedy-drama. The writing is at once deeply rich and entirely accessible, ensuring that Griff the Invisible can exist comfortably alongside the other films of its ilk even while essentially covering the same territory.
In his first outing as a feature director, Ford comes off as exceptionally accomplished both technically and theatrically. Perhaps it’s due to his work behind the camera in short films or his experience working as an actor for other talented directors, but whatever the reason, he has a distinctive flair for cinematic pacing that’s enhanced by Simon Chapman’s attractive cinematography and Karen Johnson’s keen skills as an editor. Additionally, Ford appears to be the kind of filmmaker who focuses as much on working with his actors as he does on crafting a compelling story. As a result, we not only get an affectingly nuanced centerpiece performance by Kwanten, but great work from the supporting players as well. Dermody conveys a large portion of Melody’s confusion and curiosity nonverbally, and she does so in a manner that renders her many quirks endearing, rather than making the character seem simply aloof. And though Brammell, as Tim, assumes the role of the straight man who isn’t afraid to call his eccentric brother out, we never get the impression that he’s doing so out of spite, but rather out of genuine concern for Griff’s well-being. Tim is the "normal" guy that Griff could only aspire to be, yet we never get a sense that he feels in any way superior to his sibling -- just frustrated by the fact that he can’t grasp his brother’s motivations.
At one point in Griff the Invisible, Melody states to Tim that just because someone sees the world differently than everyone else, it doesn’t mean their perspective is necessarily wrong. Maybe if we could all stop to remember that every once in a while, we wouldn’t get ourselves into the messes that we seem to keep stumbling into. Few films, even within this particular growing subgenre, have managed to convey the distinctive balance of discomfort and personal fulfillment that comes with being an outcast in society. For that insight and much more, Ford deserves recognition for what he’s accomplished in Griff the Invisible. With a little luck, maybe this hidden gem will shine bright enough that mainstream moviegoers will see it shimmering through the cracks and give it a fair chance.