Writer/director Leon Ford’s feature debut “Griff The Invisible” is a cute, quirky film that, for all its good intentions, just doesn’t quite come together the way it should.
Starring Ryan Kwanten (“True Blood”) and Maeve Dermody (“Black Water”), this all-Aussie production takes its cues from beloved awkward-rom-coms like Amelie and Benny & Joon. Like Depp’s character in that film, Kwanten’s Griff seems to suffer from some sort of mental illness: he’s convinced that he’s secretly a superhero crime-fighter by night, not merely the cubicle drone he’s forced to be during the workday. And who can blame him? At work he’s tormented by a bullying colleague, and at home he’s all alone, visited only occasionally by his much more socially-apt brother (Patrick Brammall).
Eventually, Griff meets the dreamy Melody (Dermody), who briefly dates Griff’s brother, and she becomes smitten with him. Melody seems just as divorced from reality as Griff is—she considers herself a sort of metaphysical scientist and repeatedly tries to walk through solid walls—but as the film goes on, we discover that she, unlike Griff, has the ability to put her eccentricity aside when necessary, and fully inhabit the real world. This creates tension between her and Griff, and becomes the main conflict of the story: is it morally wrong to allow Griff to keep indulging in his superhero fantasies? Is it enabling his unnamed psychological problems?
Everything turns out well in the end, of course, but the film’s treatment of Griff’s fantasies and Melody’s strange experiments is ambiguous enough to leave the viewer without the strong “aaaw” factor that was likely intended. Ford wants to have it both ways: he wants the fantasy world of the film to be seen as a metaphor for his characters’ idiosyncratic imaginations, but at the same time he doesn’t want to lose the narrative’s footing in the real world. This is all well and good, but it makes for some incongruent character development on Melody’s part, when she suddenly shows that she’s not a true believer in Griff’s fantasies, and it creates confusion when things happen in the real world of the film that aren’t actually possible (at one point, Melody does fall through a solid wall). Not knowing whether the events we’re watching are real or imaginary, and not feeling a strong logic behind that ambiguity, makes it difficult for the audience to get totally invested in the story.
Nevertheless, “Griff” is enjoyable for its unusual characters and judiciously splashy special effects. It’s especially fun to watch Kwanten take on a persona that is entirely the opposite of his character on “True Blood.” I didn’t think he’d be able to carry off shy and introverted, but he manages to navigate the script’s ups and downs with gusto. This is a great date movie, especially if you’re a bit more interested in your date than in whatever it is you end up watching.