Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Madeleine Sami and Jackie Van Beek
Stars: Madeleine Sami, Jackie Van Beek, James Rolleston, Cecilia Pacquola, Ana Scotney.
As Neil Sedaka once sang: “Breaking up is hard to do”, and that is borne out in this quirky, edgy occasionally abrasive and original romcom from New Zealand. People have a pathological fear of breaking off their relationships, so it’s nice to have someone to turn to for help who has no emotional stake in the relationship. And that’s where the titular breaker Upperers come in useful.
Chosen to open the 2018 Sydney Film Festival, The Breaker Upperers is not quite the crowd pleaser that the wonderful Hunt For The Wilderpeople turned out to be, The Breaker Upperers is a delightfully politically incorrect taboo smashing female centric comedy that will polarise audiences, and may well offend many more.
The film is the brainchild of Madeleine Sami and Jackie Van Beek and has been produced under the auspices of Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, etc). Sami and Van Beek are better known to New Zealand audiences through their work on New Zealand television sketch shows like Funny Girls and films like the popular comedy Sione’s Wedding. They also previously worked with Waititi on What We Do In The Shadows, his mockumentary about a group of vampires sharing a house. The pair share a similar comic sensibility with Waititi. The film features the usual deadpan style of delivery that has been a hallmark of New Zealand comedies.
Mel (Sami and Jen (Van Beek) are best friends, originally brought together fifteen years earlier when they discovered they had the same boyfriend who was cheating on both of them. Cynical and bitter from the experience the pair have since established their own agency in which they help unhappy partners break up their dysfunctional relationship when they are too gutless to confront their other half. Mel and Jen use a variety of disguises to help torpedo relationships, including fake pregnancies, country singers, medical personnel and even police women to help unhappy couples “uncouple”.
Business is good until two events conspire to threaten their own relationship. Mel develops a conscience when she sees the consequences of their actions on an emotionally fragile Annie (Australian actress Cecilia Pacquola, from tv series Offspring, etc, in her feature debut), one of their victims who has been left distraught and confused. And when 18-year old rugby jock Jordan (played by James Rolleston, from Boy, etc) approaches them for help in breaking up with his domineering and aggressive girl friend Sepa (Ana Scotney) Mel breaks the hard and fast rule of the business and falls in love with him. There are numerous jokes about underage sex throughout this scenario. The more bitter Jen disapproves of Mel’s behaviour and this threatens to tear their partnership apart.
While Van Beek has helmed a number of short films and the little seen feature, this is the first feature film for Sami. Sami and Van Beek bring plenty of energy, charm and an off-beat sensibility to their roles here, which is vital because some of their actions are morally questionable and quite cruel. The two bounce off each other nicely and develop a great rapport from the outset. Some of their interplay seems improvised which adds to the unique appeal. Rolleston continues to impress and delivers a wonderful performance as the naïve, dim witted and juvenile Jordan who has unsuccessfully tried to use emojis to break up with Sepa. Newcomer Sconey brings a streetwise sensibility and nicely aggressive quality to her performance.
The Breaker Upperers is shaped by an original and interesting idea, but unfortunately it is not enough to sustain this 90-minute feature and it is a little uneven and flat in places. The first half of the movie is definitely more enjoyable, full of hilarious one-liners and visual humour. But there is a streak of cruelty to some parts of the film that are cringe worthy and leave a nasty aftertaste.