Review: ‘The Breaker Upperers’ is a Goofy Comedy Duet
The latest from the New Zealand Film Commission is The Breaker Upperers, a comedy written and directed by Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami. Van Beek and Sami also co-star as Jen and Mel, two best friends in the business of ending others’ unhappy relationships. Though their services vary from performing breakup songs to faking one partner’s death, the two always manage to leave the other partner heartbroken. The two make a living delivering bad news for cowardly significant others, not realizing that their duplicity would eventually catch up with them. Hijinks ensue when they must stretch the lies too thin for a blubbering wife unable to let go of her disappeared husband. When Mel breaks their rule of never getting involved with clients or marks, the two friends find themselves amidst their own messy break up.
The film is brimming with that distinct Kiwi sense of humor that previously endeared us to What We Do in the Shadows, by van Beek and Sami’s good friends Taika Waititi and Jermain Clement. It’s easy to sense the comedic charm of Waititi (who is named as executive producer) and Clement (who makes an appearance via Tinder), but van Beek and Sami are definitely taking things in their own direction. The women are stylistically in full control, as the opening montage bounces from one joke to the next effortlessly while setting up tone and characters. They utilize flashback, but in the form of a retro music video to dramatize the discovery that they had both been cheated on by the same man at one point. It’s plain to see that these women have set out to distinguish their brand of comedy filmmaking, and they weren’t phoning it in at any point.
The writing also casually reminds you that this is a piece unmistakably by women. A personal favorite moment of this is Jen and Mel shouting at random lady walking her dog that she should stay away from an unlit path at night because there’s creeps around. It’s incidental and unrelated to their conversation at hand, but it feels true to a universal female experience. It all speaks true to van Beek and Sami’s real life friendship and creative collaboration. The film gives a nonjudgmental take on exploring one’s sexuality, as well as examining sexual identity. It offers more queer representation than your average comedy, without making it the punchline. Mel is open about her sex life as a bisexual woman, written to mirror Madeleine Sami’s own identity. The Breaker Upperers is about also knowing that you need to have love for yourself, and that platonic love between two best friends is just as valuable as romance.
The Breaker Upperers taps New Zealand’s pool of talent cultivated by Waititi’s previous works. James Rolleston, the star of Waititi’s first feature Boy, plays Jordan, an airheaded 17- year old client who breaks up with his feisty girlfriend Sepa, portrayed by Ana Scotney. Her entourage of quirky high schoolers is consistently entertaining as a bit floating through the background of scenes. The film’s loose morals come into question, however, as Mel decides to pursue the much younger Jordan. The uncouth comedy of that age gap pushes some boundaries that may make some uncomfortable. It’s played as very lighthearted and ultimately reaches a positive resolution, but the creative choice may not get quite the laugh it was going for.
As a whole, The Breaker Uppers is a fun and unique collaborative effort. Van Beek and Sami’s partnership is the sincere core of the film, and their chemistry makes their characters a hilarious duo in every situation. While the jokes consistently land, they manage to have a dialog around genuine and emotional topics that keeps the film grounded. It’s a lot more fun than any American comedy fare currently being released, and fingers crossed these New Zealanders get the supportive reception they need to continue gracing us with their wonderful sense of humor. Clocking in at 82 minutes, The Breaker Upperers is an easy to watch romp worth seeking out on Netflix.