Film review: ‘THE BREAKER-UPPERERS’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Anyone familiar with the films of New Zealand director Taika Waititi will recognise his idiosyncratic style: low budget and aesthetically minimalist with extremely droll piss-taking humour, absurdist depictions of everyday life and affectionate oddball characters. This is almost the house style for his company, Piki Films and it carries through to their latest effort The Breaker-Upperers which, for about half its running time, is an inventively silly and ballsy comedy before serious cracks appear in the film’s premise which see it almost implode.

Jen (Jackie van Beek) and Mel (Madeleine Sami) (who also write and direct) run an unusual business in which they help people, who are too chicken to confront their partner, end failing relationships by masquerading as mistresses or even as police claiming the spouse has disappeared. When Mel becomes involved with a client, 17-year-old rugby obsessive Jordan (James Rolleston) she begins to question the ethics of their strange service which causes a rift with long time best friend Jen.

As a quirky but edgy comedy about two women running an unusual small-time service this film initially recalls Sunshine Cleaning. This is a much more obscene film than Sunshine Cleaning, though, with plenty of genitalia and STD references and the inevitable slow-motion scenes of drunken carousing to stripper music required of the ‘women behaving badly’ genre. Bridesmaids was also a clear influence, Jane van Beek resembles Kristen Wiig and her character Jen’s crumbling relationship with Mel recalls the spat between Wiig and Maya Rudolph’s characters in the hit Hollywood comedy.

Those who delight in the Taika Waititi style of comedy will love most of this film but the unconverted may well be distracted by its narrative flaws. The film tries to strike a balance between surreal silliness and painful reality but absurdism and realism don’t fit together well here. Even accounting for poetic licence, the film’s internal logic just doesn’t work. Jen has to face the consequences of her treatment of Mel but not of the outrageous break-up scams they pull; at one point they tell a family their mother has died but there’s no aftermath. It’s as if Van Beek and Sami had a few comic ideas and tried to stuff them into a storyline without considering if they fitted. The film also relies on some broad characterisations – such as Jordan’s the brash former girlfriend – that verge on uncomfortable stereotypes.

Despite its flaws, the film still reveals Jackie van Beek and Madeline Sami to be fine comic actors capable of creating rounded characters within a ridiculous scenario. They’re also given good support by Celia Pacquola as desperate and dysfunctional client and James Rollestan as the very likeable Jordan.

The Breaker Upperers runs out of steam well before the end but there’s the seeds of a potent comedy here and flashes of talent that should make a substantial mark on the big screen.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek.

Release date: 19th July 2018.

Running time: 90 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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