They always get the eyes wrong.

Griff the Invisible is one of those movies that’s trafficking in the off-kilter romance lanes while also toying with the DIY Superhero genre that has remained so refreshingly fringe since Kick-Ass threatened to make it the “next big thing”. Of course, it remains to be seen whether that film and others (Defendor and Super naturally come to mind) help inspire a mainstream trend in the subgenre but so far, even the many upcoming movies with similar hooks still seem to be skirting the edges of popular awareness. Beyond this state of affairs, Griff the Invisible lives up to its name partially because it’s an Australian film. The involvement of Ryan Kwanten (of True Blood) ups its profile considerably and is the reason I noticed the film, but I have to say that while his performance is one of the best parts, Griff the Invisible is a misguided and uncomfortable movie.The first thing to get out of the way is what is, for me, an inevitable comparison to Lars and the Real Girl which is the film I was most immediately reminded of. And also is a film I fucking hate. Both films have likable, charming lead actors sublimating as much of their meal-ticket as possible to pull off shy, socially inept characters whose harmlessness and inability to cope are supposed to engender audience sympathy. I mean, we all know someone who is painfully shy and perhaps a little out of step with whatever we generally and collectively take to be “reality”. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with being shy or indulging in a little escapism. The trouble is when this leads to full-blown delusion. In Lars, I just couldn’t buy into the idea that the way these characters would react to this guy would be to play along. Because Lars and Griff both take place in a fairly realistic world, it tears up suspension of disbelief to see all the barriers and obstacles of reality being whimsically waved away for the sake of some kind of false triumph on the part of the patently delusional.

It’s not like I side always against the fantastic, either. I mean, Wes Anderson has created whole universes of completely unbelievable people living in their own pocket universes in his films. The thing is, those people are living in settings that are just different enough from reality to render any confusion or disbelief in the audience a moot point and, if it occurs at all, an example of audience misunderstanding and not some failure on the part of Anderson to be responsible for the nature of his creations.

This movie doesn’t make much time for characters that threaten Griff’s fantasy.

There isn’t much of a plot in the film. It’s ostensibly a love story but that seems to take second place to the overall thesis that hey, playing games of pretend is totally legit even if they have you breaking the law and getting beat up and having run-ins with cops. See, Griff doesn’t even try to fight crime. His enemies are total figments of his imagination. This is supposed to be a way of understanding that, aside from sometimes overstepping, Griff’s antics are ultimately just weird and harmless. The real villains are all the characters who make his life and his fantasy harder. From the office bully to the boss who tells him to just hide his weirdness, Griff is clearly supposed to be taken as a victim of a world that doesn’t know what to do with people like him. I am definitely sympathetic to that theme on some level but it is in the film’s inability to actually deal with the many and obvious problems with its thesis that I find fault. Not to mention that its narrative traction as a love story poses more problems than it solves.

Melody (Maeve Dermody) is inexplicably dating Griff’s brother Tim… more on her in a second. While he eventually comes around and, since the movie is all about giving everybody a neat happy ending, gets a more fitting girlfriend for himself later, Tim is portrayed as a jerk who just “doesn’t get it”. As a character, Tim is the screenwriter’s stand-in for all the well-meaning people in the lives of the off-beat. The people who look after you, clean up the messes left by your slippery grip on your life, and so on. That the movie’s overall tone to this (quite unlike Lars which handled this better in some ways) is very problematic and childish. The sense is that Griff and Melody would be just fine if Tim would only butt out. In essence, if the rest of the world would just leave them to their play. I think sure, yes, but at some point someone is going to have to pay the bills and do all the upkeep required for the indulgences of Griff’s fantasies. A child can only be a child if an adult is around to manage all the affairs. This implies that balance is what is truly required in the life of an escapist but Griff the Invisible has no time for such reasonable ideas. Instead, the balance is meant to be provided by just having someone along to share the ride.

Tim is the irksome, meddling voice of reason. Just like in real life.

Melody is a more interesting character than Griff and that’s the first problem. Her particular delusional grasp of reality is all the right kind of quirky. She’s into quantum strangeness and testing the limits of so-called reality. Her acceptance or preference for fantasy seems, at first, to be contingent on a level of uncertainty implied by her understanding of physics. The movie quickly leaves her musings behind, pushing her into Griff’s world with the only justification being that hey, he’s also out of step with reality so obviously: true love. Still, Maeve Dermody’s ability to balance the character’s expressiveness with restraint makes her the most compelling presence on screen whenever she is.

The second problem is hey, she’s dating Tim. Which makes no fucking sense except for that there’s some limited attempt to make it seem like Melody is involved in some nominal appeasement of her “normal” parents. Still, they have to know that she’s a grown woman who sits around all day thinking about walking through walls. Yes, that is kind of cool. Maybe that I think her delusions are acceptable while Griff’s are troubling is some kind of double standard. I think there would be more room for exploring that possibility here, in the context of this film, if it wasn’t completely abandoned in favor of Griff’s more, in theory, cinematic fantasy life.

I’d like to see Maeve Dermody in more stuff. She’s a winner in the film.

The third problem that Melody introduces to the film is that she only seems genuinely interested in Griff when he’s indulging his childish bullshit. In what is a cringe-inducingly cliche moment for these types of films, he overhears Tim and Melody discussing him and his predilections but because of an inconvenient walkie-talkie glitch (lazy screenwriting, a real problem all throughout) he doesn’t hear all of it, just the part where she calls him a freak. After that, he starts to imitate Tim and be the only version of normal he knows. I get that Melody should have a problem with an inauthentic Griff, a guy she didn’t fall for, but the overriding vibe is that she didn’t fall for the man so much as the fantasy he has wrapped around himself. This is sort of an ugly place for the movie to go and one that I’m sure is unintentional even as it is undeniable. It isn’t helped by that the movie is too busy with itself to give Melody and Griff much to connect them aside from her contribution to his fantasy world.

By the end of the film, the fantasy of Griff the Invisible has consumed everyone and everything. Even Tim is reduced to dropping off “top secret” packages to fuel the fire. Melody and Griff are happy together, her fantasy about phasing through walls having inexplicably come true (or become true for Griff though he is not presented as knowing anything about it to my recollection) and reuniting them both in a wordless scene that is supposed to be cathartic but just registers as the final ridiculous straw in a messy, untoward movie.

Though I highly disliked Griff the Invisible, I did like Maeve Dermody quite a bit. It should also be noted that Ryan Kwanten is a real actor who is able to completely erase Jason Stackhouse with his doe-eyed introvert. I also have a sense that this is the type of movie that is interesting in spite of itself, that will prompt divisive arguments among people who see it together. While I am, maybe instinctively, uncomfortable with the type of pro-escapist message this movie (and Lars and the Real Girl) present, I can easily see an argument from the other side that might posit the presence of this same trope in films I actually adore.

I’d like to hear about that from ye readers who art so inclined just so I can see if I can argue on the basis of how the trope/themes are handled in various films.