Directors: Jackie van Beek & Madeleine Sami
Length: 90 minutes
New Zealand actresses Jackie van Beek and Madeline Sami are well-established members of Taika Waititi’s wheelhouse. They’ve appeared in Eagle vs Shark, Boy and What We Do In The Shadows. Now, they join forces as co-directors, co-writers and stars of the latest kiwi-comedy, The Breaker Upperers (with Waititi on board as executive producer).
Fifteen years before the main story, Mel (Sami) and Jen (van Beek) discovered they were being two-timed by the same man. Bitter and cynical, they become friends and form “The Breaker Upperers”, a small-time business breaking up couples for cash. Their agency helps individuals who want to get out of unhappy relationships but avoid a nasty confrontation by posing as secret mistresses, strippers and police officers to deliver false news about their clients’ deaths. Now in their forties, Mel and Jen live together and keep their business alive by remaining emotionally shut-off from their clients, but when they run into one of their victims, Anna (Australian comedian Celia Pacquola), Mel develops a conscience and their friendship is put to the test. Things go way off course when their new client, a 17-year-old rugby-jock named Jordan (James Rolleston), falls for Mel at first sight.
There are a number of entertaining supporting characters in this movie, some of whom are played by other Waititi regulars. Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) gets a couple of funny scenes as Jen’s overbearing mother, and James Rolleston (the titular star of Boy) confirms his comedy skills like he did in last year’s Pork Pie. Even Jermaine Clement gets a cameo, but the standout is newcomer Ana Scotney as Jordan’s tough-talking, hip-hop gang-leader girlfriend.
Unfortunately, at a fleeting runtime of 75 minutes (before the end credits roll), The Breaker Upperers feels overstuffed and at war with itself. The leads are likeable, but the film’s structure is shaggy—there are so many comic sequences that divert away from the drama van Beek and Sami are going for (Jen and Mel’s dissolving friendship, resulting in Jen’s midlife crisis) and doesn’t ultimately reshape the characters. The plot feels non-existent and the relationship between Mel and Jen lacks drive and charm.
As silly as the Taika Waititi comedies can be, they are somewhat insightful and the easy rapport between the actors adds to the charm of those movies. There’s no sense of subtlety in The Breaker Upperers. The supporting characters are not given enough attention, making their involvement in the film’s climax feel forced and overdone.
Dumb comedies don’t need to be taken seriously, but they can still string together a plot without asking the audience to do mental gymnastics to make sense of things. A simple story (where A leads to B, B leads to C) could have helped the “buddy element” that The Breaker Upperers’ central relationship needed. Instead, it is neutered through repetition and a series of sketches that, although funny at first, grows tiresome. No doubt the actors are gifted and funny, but not enough to rise above the thin and unconvincing material.