Making its first appearance in 2010 at the Toronto film festival, Griff the Invisible was well-received by both audiences and critics, winning an AACTA award (essentially the Australian equivalent to an Oscar) for Best Original Screenplay. Having missed it at the time of release, I was very interested to check out this first venture into feature film by Leon Ford, an actor/writer/director arguably best known for his role in Steven Spielburg’s The Pacific.
The film is a fresh, funny take on the superhero genre – in many ways more a comedic drama than anything. Set in Sydney, Australia, the film centres around Griff (Ryan Kwanten), a lonely, nerdy office worker whose only real friend is his older brother Tim (Patrick Brammall). Even their relationship is strained: we learn that Tim only moved back to the city to keep an eye on his rather odd sibling. What Tim doesn’t know is that his brother is in fact a masked superhero, roaming the city at night to defend the weak and uphold justice. His apartment is stuffed with technology that he hurriedly hides whenever his brother shows up for an extremely awkward bonding session. The only other person paying attention to Griff is office bully Tony (Toby Schmitz) – and that is very much the wrong sort of attention.
So far so Peter Parker, right? Well that’s where you’d be wrong… Griff has an even greater secret. This film veers in a very different direction than the standard superhero fare, managing to switch effortlessly between comedy, romance, action and sadness.
The day that Griff is introduced to Tim’s new girlfriend Melody (Maeve Dermody) is the day that everything really changes. Here at last is someone as unusual as him. Someone who doesn’t dismiss him as an oddball. Someone who has a couple of peculiar secrets of her own…
Many will know Ryan Kwanten from his convincing portrayal of Jason Stackhouse – impulsive, dim-witted brother to Sookie in HBO’s True Blood. Here he is totally different and just as convincing. He ably portrays the shy, timid Griff without making him too innocent and irritating.
The rest of the cast match up to this standard too: Maeve Dermody in particular is great as the equally awkward, inquisitive Melody. Dermody delivers a shy, quirky girl who manages to avoid the much-bemoaned ‘manic pixie dream girl’ stereotype by coming across as an actual person with her own flaws and interests.
And… that’s about all I can tell you without spoiling the movie! If you haven’t watched it yet (and I recommend that you do) beware from here on…
Because of course it couldn’t be that simple, could it? The timid, awkward loner isn’t really a vigilante hero, not in the real world. And the real world is where the film is set.
Over a series of heart-breaking moments we come to realise (along with the character) that all of Griff’s heroics are in his head. The high-tech plasma screen set-up is nothing but a few old TV sets on a desk. His sharp Batman-esque costume looks like he put it together a couple of hours before a college costume party. The only power of invisibility he has is the way he’s basically ignored by everyone else. This was a pretty stunning moment for me. I had as much faith in Griff as he did in himself – that standard suspension of disbelief that you use for superhero movies was suddenly called into question. It really made me feel the pain of Griff’s loss as he realises he’s just fooling himself; he’s no hero.