If you've been disappointed with this summer's lack of whimsy, romance and Australians pretending to be superheroes, Indomina Media has the cure: "Griff The Invisible," out in select theaters this Friday. A mish-mash of real-life superheroes, indie drama and lighthearted romance, the only way to describe "Griff" is to call it a superhero romantic comedy, heavy on the romance. Closer in tone to "Eagle Vs. Shark" than "Kick-Ass," the ultimate point of "Griff" is not explaining how costumed heroes fare in the real world but exploring the mechanisms behind wanting to be a superhero and the depth of human imagination.
"Griff The Invisible" follows the adventures of its titular hero, the shy, awkward Griff. Played by "True Blood" hunk Ryan Kwanten, Griff is a timid loner leading a double life: mild-mannered bully-magnet by day, by night he is Griff the superhero, patrolling the streets in a black and yellow rubber suit, fighting off muggers and an enigmatic top-hatted villain. Looking in on Griff is his concerned older brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) who tries to get Griff to socialize and engage the world around him. Griff quietly refuses -- until he meets Tim's new girlfriend, an oddball named Melody (Maeve Dermody) who believes she can walk through walls.
If you've ever seen a romantic comedy, you know what comes next, but the slow process of Melody and Griff falling in love is surprisingly delightful. The movie takes off as Melody tries to worm her way into Griff's heart as both sidekick and girlfriend while Griff tries to perfect his invisibility suit, not to better patrol the streets but for more personal reasons. It's at this point "Griff" transcends the genres it pulls from as the audience begins to question the assumptions that underlie Griff's world. Can the invisibility suit actually work? Is Melody a klutz or is she accidentally phasing in and out of reality? Is Griff really the successful superhero he thinks he is, or is he just a man trying to escape his unbearable life? Or both?
Visually, "Griff" fits in the same quirky mold as independent films like "Garden State" and the aforementioned "Eagle Vs. Shark," and writer/director Leon Ford and cinematographer Simon Chapman deserve praise for the movie's structure and deceiving simplicity. While it would be very easy to treat "Griff" as a mystery peppered with red herrings and clues to whether or not we're in the real world or the superhero one, Chapman refuses to entertain such a cut and dried approach. Everything exists in a heightened state of reality in "Griff," from bad guy fights to dinner parties, all of which leave you with the sense that even in the "real world," reality does not have a strong grip. Ford and Chapman also play with the visual depiction of invisibility, liberally splashing their film with the color yellow. This may be a strange color to symbolize the power, but one that makes sense when you realize Griff is striving so hard to fit in that he ultimately stands out.
In the hands of a weaker actor, Griff's weirdness might grate on the nerves, but Kwanten is successful in the role. Imbuing Griff with absolute sincerity, there is no trace of the sexy, cocksure Jason Stackhouse as Kwanten mumbles, bumbles and blushes his way across screen. Ford deftly paces the strange evolution of Griff and Melody's romance, and while it would be easy for these two nuts to blend together, Ford and the actors carefully establish Griff and Melody as distinct personalities. While Griff is trying so hard to blend in he makes himself a target, Dermody's Melody is more successful at seeming normal, though her ocassional outbursts prove she's as kooky as Griff.
Though it's easy to fixate on Kwanten and Dermody's top-notch performances, the rest of the cast portray their characters with equal aplomb. Tim's bluster and terrible in-jokes may be annoying but in Brammall's hands he's also a man who truly loves his brother. Melody's mother, played by Heather Mitchell, may behave like a shrew with the sole goal of having her daughter married and producing grandkids, but with one scene, she reveals and entirely different side of her character. Tony is one of the most underserved characters of the film, but even he shows greater depth, the bad guy who slowly grows disturbed by how easily he slips into the role of the villain. Inside every character in "Griff" is a superhero or super villain waiting to get out -- but while Griff and Melody embrace their inner hero, the rest of the characters demand they grow up.
The film uses its superhero portions to underscore this; while it follows all the conventions of a regular superhero movie -- the secret identities, the outlandish and mysterious villain, the costumes, the high-tech lair -- they do not drive the plot. Griff and Melody's relationship steers the story, and while it is strengthened by Griff's penchant for defending the helpless, the two really bond over building the invisibility suit. In fact, the biggest problem "Griff" has is that it is not always successful at maintaining its central conceit, at one point losing the superhero thread almost entirely. Despite this, however, the film undeniably serves up something new and entertaining.
"Griff" is a breath of fresh air, a movie sure to delight the college-aged crowd with its arty eccentricities. More indie romance than superhero movie, if your reaction to films like "500 Days Of Summer" is to roll your eyes and gag, save your money. However, if you are ready for a steady diet of awkward sweetness seasoned with genre tropes, then pull out the popcorn and take a seat: "Griff The Invisible" is the summer movie for you.
"Griff The Invisible" releases in select US theaters nationwide August 19