An unconventional premise that harvests the laughs at every opportunity and witty, likeable characters make The Breaker Upperers a truly enjoyable comedy that’ll rock your socks off.
New Zealand carries the baton when it comes to independent comedy at the moment: smash hits such as Taika Waititi’s Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, or Hunt for the Wilderpeople stole the hearts of international audiences. This time, it’s Waititi turn to produce, putting a story told by talented women in the spotlight. Two comedians are helming the project: the film was written and directed by Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek, who also take the leading roles. Their tender comedy with a unique premise and sharp humour warms the audiences up with the pure positivity. Radiating optimism off the screen, it lets us into the lives of two women that run a break-up service.
Their partnership sprang out of a love triangle: the cheater who dated them both at the same time went away, but their friendship endured, leading to their lucrative endeavour. The rules of the service Mel (Sami) and Jen (van Beek) provide are straightforward: if things don’t quite work out anymore, the duo can come up with a palatable reason to break up with your significant other. The list of people they helped contains people from all walks of life and in all kinds of unhappy relationships. Their unconventional methods, showcased in a brief montage that opens the film, include dressing up as police officers, faking pregnancies or affairs, crashing weddings or temporarily “disappearing” one of the partners. So far so good, but the things get complicated when a teenage boy Jordan (Boy’s James Rolleston) who doesn’t know how to break it off with his passive-aggressive girlfriend Sepa (Ana Scotney) turns to them for help. Despite their age difference, Jordan and Mel immediately start crushing on each other. Jen isn’t impressed and does everything to bring their company back on track, but a brief flashback of their ex and a return of past client put their small business in jeopardy.
The comedy doesn’t stick to any one particular type of humour. In The Breaker Upperers, punchy quips interweave with situational humour and slapstick comedy, harnessing the leading ladies’ comedic potential. As they string sketches together, they squeeze laughs out of audience minute after minute. Whether it’s a bizarre flashback montage set as a karaoke video of Celine Dion’s song, a dance-off at a football pitch or a striptease scene at a police station, the cast comes into each gag with a lot of confidence, energy and a genuinely positive vibe. Although they lace their dialogue with some provocative (and potentially risky) elements, they poke fun at themselves and nip any potential tone problems in the bud. Add the female gaze tinted with humour – for instance, Mel watching Jason pouring Coke all over his head in slow motion – and the recipe for a genuinely lovable comedy is now complete.
The chemistry between Sami and van Beek is extraordinary: they take us into their world and make us forget our own in an instant. Their characters are polar opposites, and they’re written convincingly enough: Mel is a wild, spontaneous party girl with a big heart, while Jen holds herself back as the serious, reserved one in the duo. The leading ladies are having a lot of fun with their protagonists, and we can immediately sense it as the audience. They’re joined by James Rolleston, who plays a good-natured but incredibly naïve teenager Jordan, wearing a heart on his sleeve throughout his performance. Ana Scotney tackles the trickier role of Sepa but manages to land safely with her character in the end.
The Breaker Upperers opened as a part of the London Film Festival. It will be released by Netflix in the UK.
- The Breaker Upperers