Barry Moochmore (LaPaglia) is the mayor of Dolphin Heads, a coastal suburb of Australia. He's married to Shirley (Gibney) and has five lovely daughters. All of whom are probably quite crazy. Shirley has a tendency to burst into musical numbers and is obsessed with the idea that her family is completely happy and normal. Her daughters believe that they suffer from everything from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder to antisocial personality disorder. After Shirley goes on a shopping spree, courtesy of her neurotic doll-crafting sister, Doris (Caroline Goodall), and tells everyone it's the result of her husband having won Wheel of Fortune, Barry has her committed to an insane asylum and hires a perfectly qualified and sane babysitter in the form of Shaz (Collette), a hitchhiker he sees on the side of the road. Shaz proceeds to show the Moochmore girls that they are strong individuals and that the rest of the world is crazy.
Except, well, Shaz is probably insane herself, and her tactics for teaching the girls to be self-sufficient involve copious amounts of violence courtesy of her dog Ripper, the knife in her boot, and whatever else comes to hand. And it seems she may have ulterior motives for picking the Moochmore family to mentor.
This film contains the following tropes:
- Attack Animal: Ripper seems to be this to Shaz although he's never actually seen attacking a person (dolls, on the other hand...), only threatening them.
- Bedlam House: Averted. The psychiatric facility is bright and cheery, and the patients range from very much out of it to affably friendly.
- Child by Rape: Shirley reveals to Shaz in conversation that Coral is this, because Barry raped her on their first date. After she found herself pregnant, they got married. This is treated as black comedy at worst.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: At first, it looks like Trout will use the shock prod on Trevor in revenge. Instead, he pulls out his guitar and starts singing. Trevor looks like he would have preferred the shock prod...
- Creepy Cleanliness: Nancy's house invokes this with its blinding whiteness.
- Creepy Doll: Doris has an extensive doll collection, including two who she calls her daughters. Very well-behaved they are. Quiet, too.
- Funny Schizophrenia: Michelle is the only one of the girls who is exhibiting a real mental illness. She hears voices and has a persistent hallucination of men in full-body suits insisting that she give them the metallic man. And then, we learn that she can't even stand to sleep in her own bedroom because she knows they'll find her there. Fortunately, her schizophrenia does respond to medication.
- Magical Nanny: Shaz is a deconstruction of the role. She inspires the girls to greater courage, but does so through violent means and blatant lies.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Shaz is a deconstruction of this. She does shake the town up. She does inspire Shirley and the girls to stand up for themselves. She's also clinically insane and violent, and is using the girls to get to her ex-husband.
- Neat Freak: Nancy is obsessed with keeping her house in order to the point of scrubbing her driveway with a toothbrush and burning her couch after it gets menstrual blood on it.
- Poor Communication Kills: Trevor has a thicker Aussie accent than most of the cast. His accident near the end of the film is the result of him answering "Now?" with "No" and the others hearing it as "Now!"
- Two-Person Pool Party: Trout and Coral strip down and enjoy the water park together after closing time.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Director PJ Hogan's mother did have a mental breakdown. His politician father did have her committed. His father did hire a smoking hitchhiker with a dog and knife in her boot to be their babysitter."I came home from school and there was this strange woman rolling a cigarette, knife in her boot, dog beside her, and she said, 'Bit of a mess in here, innit?'" Hogan recalled. "That was the woman who took care of us she pretty much lived with us, I remember, for six to eight months, even after my mum returned home, because they got on."
- What Would X Do?: Near the end of the film, the girls ask themselves, "What would Shaz do?" and use it as guidance for their insane scheme.
- When You Coming Home, Dad?: Barry disappears for days at a time, absorbed in his work and his affairs.