Griff the Invisible has pretty much all the cards stacked against it before the film even starts. A look at the trailer and a passing glance at the poster suggests yet another real life superhero film (hot on the heels of Kick Ass, Super and Defendor, amongst others) crossed with an indie film love story that has a Manic Pixie Dream Girl love interest. Fortunately this Australian import manages to get all of the elements almost perfectly right to create a genuinely moving and heartfelt film. Writer director Leon Ford has crafted a fun an surprisingly deep look at a young man who really only gets to show his confidence when no one else is looking.
Griff (True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten) is a shy man living alone in the big city who stalks the city streets at night as a masked superhero on a mission to stop crime in his neighbourhood. When he isn’t fighting the good fight, Griff is living in the shadow of his older, more successful brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) and is constantly being picked on by the office bully at his day job (Toby Schmitz). For all the love and concern that Tim shows for his brother and his crime fighting ways, he always looks down on Griff by constantly being sarcastic and acting like Griff owes him something. Griff’s dual professions and his personal relationships change considerably when he meets Melody, played by Maeve Dermody. Melody is an eternally klutzy optimist and a self described “experimentalist” with a head full of somewhat useless facts and the growing ability to walk through doors and walls. Despite being a masked vigilante, it is only Melody that is truly able to get Griff to become satisfied with his life.
With shades of The Shadow, Spider-man, and Tim Burton’s Batman, the crime fighting aspects of the film alternate between fantastical and realistic depending on Griff’s state of mind at the time. Ford does a admirable job of balancing the drabness of Griff’s world by adding fully fleshed out characters around him. Theproduction design is very sparse, but it works quite well. Everything in the film almost feels refreshingly like a blank slate for the actors to work. These are people living in a very dull world and it is very easy for the audience to see why they would need a fantastical escape. The office building Griff works in is a bleak, almost black and white world where the ocean view from the windows promises a much better world outside the place he is stuck working. The streets are empty when Griff is on patrol, but people are constantly looking through windows and not partaking in the world below. In this respect, Griff the Invisible is pretty exceptional.
Another place the film excels is in the casting department. As they are written, Griff and Melody are archetypal characters that have been seen in films before. What sets them apart is the fact that Kwanten and Dermody are taking Griff and Melody in different directions. Kwanten plays Griff as someone who is so introverted and scared to speak his mind that one genuinely feels that he could break down and cry at any given moment. Griff winds himself up so tightly that his fantasies become his only means of release. Kwanten is very good at balancing the push and pull or the character and he creates one of the most sympathetic on screen heroes this year. Dermody, on the other hand, is essentially just playing a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but her performance suggests that she knows ways around making Melody a very stock caricature of a human being. Dermody understands that “manic” is a big part of her character by alternating between high and low energy, but unlike many such afflicted characters, Melody remains kind and sweet throughout the film. She almost acts the entire movie with a Steven Wright-style deadpan that suits the character well.
It isn’t a perfect film, but it is something that is far better than I was expecting when I started watching it. Just like any formula for a movie, it is always great to see when the formula is done just right.
Griff the Invisible opens in Toronto August 19 and Vancouver September 9.
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Patrick Brammall, Maeve Dermody
Directed by: Leon Ford
Top image: A scene Griff the Invisible.