In New Zealand's modest population of 4.6 million people (roughly the same population as Sydney), there just seems to be a disproportionate amount of scarily talented and hilarious people. Remarkable writers, debut feature directors and stars Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek bring the thunder with their hilarious debut feature. Elevated by a premise that has impossibly never been done and delivered in bright Kiwi accents (the funniest of all dialects - see all Taika Waititi films), "The Breaker Upperers," is a joyful experience that isn't comfortable with its soft centre. And that's good; we get to relish the beautifully weird, awkward discomfort.
Mel (Sami) and Jen (van Beek) find a niche in the relationship market; helping the hopeless, witless and gutless with sure-fire uncoupling, for a price. "The Breaker Upperers" as an example, will fake your death or pose as a secret pregnant lover to help customers emergency exit out of an unwanted connection. Sami and van Beek have no trouble creating the comedic chemistry. Both performers lean into their respective talents. Sami is the buffoon, it's high energy silliness and van Beek it's razor-sharp straight-faced foil. If you've ever been in their presence, as I was lucky enough to be at the Sydney Film Festival opening, you'll see that Sami and van Beek are bottling their real chemistry.
The ensemble cast is incredible. Aussie Ceilia Pacquola plays Anna, a 'victim' of the B.U whose desperation and post-break-up ugly crying starts to eat away at Mel's conscience. Behind the blubbering is Pacquola's impeccable sense of how to make her counterparts insanely uncomfortable, and an ability to keep it together in the midst of heightened exaggeration. James Rolleston, the boy from "Boy", plays Jordan, the Rugby prospect desperate to break free of the demanding, side-line stalking Sepa (Ana Scotney). Jordan's failure to end the relationship with emoji-filled text messages sees him enlist the help of the ladies. Rolleston's dopey smile and bursting sincerity make you want to pat his head with each excruciatingly stupid idea that comes to his mind. Rolleston crushes it, which is no surprise because he was literally protege to New Zealand's current 'King of Comedy' and Pineapple swag (and executive producer) Taika Waititi.
"The Breaker Upperers" really shines in the moments that it embraces the inherent absurdity of genre. There's a timeout at Jen's (van Beek) family dinner because the pressure is just too much. Jen, Mel and Jen's brother have a 'cocaine conference' in the bathroom to mute Jen's mother (the glorious Rima Te Wiata) constant stream of disapproval and oversharing. Ana Scotney's Sepa and her fierce gaggle of queens coincidentally all working behind the same counter at a bank as an example, are a force so funny that the fact that the cast and crew were able to maintain composure to commit it to film without corpsing is a kind of minor miracle. Cinematographer Ginny Loane captures the messy, quaint polish of Auckland as a comedic setting; which is such a refreshing setting for such a widely distributed comedy. When you're watching movies about being single in a city like New York, L.A or London the level of desperation doesn't have the same 'realness' of the comparatively tiny New Zealand city. Celine Dion scored flashbacks are just the right amount of daggy, and there's really nothing like musical numbers to win back a lover with a smattering of disinterested patrons at a local sports club to offset that movie magic.
"The Breaker Upperers" is a film that I had a chance to see twice in one day. After the first viewing, with a second helping on offer, I did not hesitate, not for a second.
"The Breaker Upperers"
Directed by: Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek
Written by: Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek
Starring: Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek, James Rolleston, Ceilia Pacquola, Ana Scotney
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