The Breaker Upperers
The lovechild of NZ comedienne-content-makers, Madeleine Sami (SUPER CITY) and Jackie van Beek (THE INLAND ROAD), THE BREAKER UPPERERS is an out and out comedy film that plays for laughs and, mostly, scores. By my estimation, there aren’t too many straight out New Zealand comedies—we tend towards the darker edges thematically, even in our humour—but this multi-hyphenate (writer-director-star) duo flesh out what amounts to a comedy sketch premise into a pretty decent story of faltering friendship and self-acceptance.
Mel (Sami) and Jen (van Beek) are flatmates and old friends, with a history that as much rears its ugly head as it does unfold over the course of the film. Together, with an administrative intern, the pair form ‘The Breaker Upperers’: a service provider that conflict averse clients can engage to break up a relationship they wish to end, sans attendant drama. From pretend pregnancies, to fake police delivering fake death notices, to singing break-up-o-grams: these girls have you covered!
The creators show good writing nous, stretching out various iterations of their central premise to maximum effect, then finding clever ways to weave these strands of humour through the meatier relational story arc of two friends at a crossroads. For example: some of TBUs regular break up scenarios involve the pair pretending to be policewomen, and in one ongoing scene the girls refuse to acknowledge that their bluff has been called when a client asks to see the (very much made-up) ‘case files’ on her ‘missing’ husband. But instead of fessing up, Mel and Jen keep spinning less and less convincing tales, leading to one of the film’s (several) excellently awkward dance performances, used to slither out of their illegal predicament.
Much of the film’s comedy is also mined from an array of excellent support characters. At the top of this list is Rima Te Wiata’s rollicking display as Jen’s callously over-privileged and ludicrously inappropriate mother. You can tell Te Wiata is enjoying the hell out of working cringe-laugh line after cringe-laugh line, landing them pretty much every time. Having James Rolleston back on screen (after fears he may not recover from a major car accident in July 2016) as Mel’s thick-headed-but-pretty-younger-man love interest, Jordan, is also a treat. The effects of Rolleston’s accident may be clear but he delivers a strong comedic performance and retains a natural magnetism in front of the camera. Also delivering their share of the laughs are Australian comedienne Celia Pacquola as needy client Anna who plays on Mel’s conscience and inadvertently slides a wedge in between the central pair, relative newcomer Ana Scotney who brings the right amount of fauxgression as Jordan’s unaccepting ‘ex’ Sepa, and Taika Waititi regular Cohen Holloway as Joe, the common connection at the beginning of Jen and Mel’s friendship.
While not all the humour works, and some sections are stretched narratively thin, the film has regular standout sequences that keep it well above the line. Scenes such as a flashback karaoke sequence where the filmmakers weave a character’s neuroses into a faux-karaoke video SO perfect that you could totally put it on as a perplexing video backdrop to any number of songs in a typical karaoke club. And I’m no dance fan, but I involuntarily spray-laughed in at least two of the dance based scenes in THE BREAKER UPPERERS, so overall I have to say this is win for Sami, van Beek, and comedy audiences at large.
Rating: M Drug use, sex scenes, sexual references & offensive language.