TL;DR – At times hilarious, at times incredible farcical, and at times a deeply moving look at the trials of friendship.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a post-credit scene
For a long time, there has been this growing bubble of particular dry absurdist comedy coming out of New Zealand. You see it in the work of Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby, Rachel House, and also some of Peter Jackson’s early films. These are films that mix comedy and emotional understanding in equal measures. Whenever one of these movies like Hunt for the Wilderpeople (see review) or Hibiscus & Ruthless (see review) make it across the ditch I always really look forward to seeing it. Well, today we get the chance to look at a new entry into this wonderful genre The Breaker Upperers, from the comedic team of Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek.
So to set the scene, we open on Jen (Jackie van Beek) and Mel (Madeleine Sami) as they sit in Anna’s (Celia Pacquola) dining room in police outfits as Anna bawls her soul out. It seems her husband is missing and the only thing the police has found is his watch down by the docks. It is a moment of deep sadness but also from the moment something feels … well … off. That’s because Mel and Jen are not police officers, in actual fact, they run a business that helps couples (or in reality one part of the couple) break up. Sometimes this is just a phone call, sometimes it is pretending to be the other women, and sometimes it is pretending the other person is dead. This is a great business and keeps them constantly busy, but it also comes with an emotional component that is building between the two friends that is about to reach a tipping point.
At the heart of this film is the story of the friendship of Jen and Mel, and it simply would not work if the two leads did not commit to the role as much as they do. Both the actresses, who also wrote and directed the film, take what should be an absurd situation and make it feel real. This is a film that is both incredibly funny yet also a look into what shapes the decisions we make in the world, and that is a tough balance to get right. So you can have a chemically enhanced flashback in the same film that deals with the aftermath of the emotional devastation of having the one you love disappear without a trace. Add to this the rest of the cast is game for everything that gets thrown at them. Celia Pacquola spends a good chunk of the film being in several stages of distress as Anna, this was a character that could have been a bit problematic had she not been written really well and performed with understanding. James Rolleston plays Jordan as this naïve character but importantly not a stupid one, which you do kind of root for, and of course, you have that playing off Ana Scotney’s fierce interpretation of Sepa. When it comes to Sepa and her crew it will be interesting to see how that translates in places without as much of a knowledge of the modern Polynesian culture.
These days when you use the term parody, or god forbid spoof, it is usually referring to one of a wave of substandard knockoffs that were released onto the world in the wake of Scary Movie. Now, this is a real shame because outside of all of these are some real gems that stand above them like Airplane!, Hot Fuzz, Austin Powers, and Lego Batman. This is because these films are made by people who know the subject material and the parodies come from a place of love. However, to do this you have to deeply understand the genre and films that you are parodying. Here we have another entry into this world as The Breaker Upperers both champions and dissects the romantic comedy genre.
Now to see that we have to look a bit at the story, which means that there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead. In some respects, you can chart a standard rom-com over the plot beats of the film. They start the film as a unified team, hit turbulence when an outside force puts pressure on the relationship, they morph into a Celine Dion music video, break up, you know all the normal things. However, even though it might confirm to those standard plot beats, the film knows what it is doing from the start and is constantly subverting them throughout. Starting with the fact that the pair in this film are plutonic friends rather than a romantic couple which fundamentally changes the dynamics of the film. This is added to by the fact that the film’s protagonists work in ‘professional relationship disintegrating’ the very opposite of most rom-coms. Because of this it actually makes those moments that we do hit into the more traditional realm of the rom-com, like the musical number or Clair de Lune, actually have more weight because there is more substance to them.
In the end, do we recommend The Breaker Upperers? Yes, yes we do. It is a pure riot, often deeply insightful, at times deeply uncomfortable, and full of Kiwi charm. The comedy will have you full-body laughing in the cinemas, and then it will deconstruct a genre in a masterful way that has you somewhat in awe with how they were able to pull that off.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Breaker Upperers
Directed by – Madeleine Sami & Jackie van Beek
Written by – Madeleine Sami & Jackie van Beek
Cinematography by – Ginny Loane
Edited by – Tom Eagles
Starring – Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek, James Rolleston, Celia Pacquola, Ana Scotney, Jaquie Brown, Jemaine Clement, Angella Dravid, Cohen Holloway, Oscar Kightley, Gentiane Lupi, Karen O’Leary, Yvette Parsons, Fraser Harrison Rolleston, Nic Sampson, Kelvin Taylor, Rima Te Wiata & Lucy Lawless
Rating – Australia: M; New Zealand: M