We live in an age where pretty much everything is outsourced.
IT, phone services, shopping, even essay writing if you’re an unscrupulous uni student; so why not breaking up with someone, which I think we can all agree is of the worst things anyone ever has the misfortune to have to go through. (Not to mention the person at the receiving end of the “Dear John” announcement who’s is most definitely having an even worse time of it.)
Mel (Madeleine Sami) and Jen (Jackie van Beek) are two friends who know how sitting-at-a-wedding-reception-with-strangers unpleasant it can be and so in the Taika Waititi executive produced New Zealand comedy, The Breaker Upperers, they operate a service which for $500 down payment and $500 on completion will break upon with the no longer-object of your affection without you having to be even present.
Sounds alluring on just about level if you don’t have stomach for a big, messy emotional showdown, right?
Granted, not everyone’s cup of bitter-tasting tea, a point made rather forcefully mid way through the film by the jilted girlfriend of one client, Anna (Celia Pacquola) when she’s discovers where her boyfriend actually is, but it’s a living, and one the two close friends who share a history with the one man, now an ex for both, tackle with gusto, good humour and creativity.
That is until life intervenes and both women are forced to confront the fact that their business and in fact their entire lives may not be as consequence free as they’ve led their clients and themselves to believe.
Until that point is reached, and it arrives earlier than you might think in an hilarious, charming comedy that seamlessly and entertainingly balances laughs (of which there are many) and a real heart, we’re treated to a series of clients who all want to be free of their now-far from special someone.
So desperate are they to escape the crushing bonds of romantic non-bliss that they consent to all manner of elaborate schemes – Mel and Jen are nothing if not fantastically inventive, both in theme and delivery – with one gay man, who by the way did NOT vote for same sex marriage, going to extraordinary lengths during the wedding ceremony to escape a legally-binding arrangement not to his liking.
Much of the humour of The Breaker Upperers, which like all good comedies is consistently funny, drawing off both richly-wrought characters and skillfully-realised situations, comes from Jen and Mel’s clients discussing why they won’t their relationship ended, and then watching the two breaker upperers do their thing.
But Sami and van Beek clearly realised early on that simply stuffing a film full of those admittedly hilarious (there’s that word again; trust me, it is wholly and completely and unreservedly justified) vignettes would not a sustainable comedy make.
So they send the two protagonists, who possess comedic and personal chemistry unparalleled, on emotional journeys that serve the purpose of grounding the two women but also reinforcing the film’s central message (never once hamfistedly delivered in a sleek-as-you-could-ask-for narrative) that belonging to someone, and yes not belonging to them too, is messy and uncomfortable but always best carried out by your own hand.
Mel ends up falling for a 17-year-old client (he’s legal is an assurance that is humourously repeated throughout) Jordan (James Rolleston) who keeps adorably calling her “Melon” – he’s not too bright but with that comes a sweet innocence that means you never once find him annoying but rather wholly endearing – while Jen, unloved and alone, struggles with her dysfunctional family and an old love to whom she still feels connected (even though he has long since moved on).
Each woman is put through an emotional wringer of sorts – Melon (yes I laughed like a fool each time Jordan said her non-name) gets a more absurdist run of it with Jordan’s ex Sepa (Ana Scotney,) a scene-stealer throughout the film, giving her, and Jen in a side-splittingly funny finale, a real run for their Jordan-loving money – and it’s this authentically-realised emotional arc that gives the vibrantly-percolating comedy even more edge and substance.
The Breaker Upperers succeeds on the strength of this robust emotional inner core, astoundingly good performances, which come complete with stunningly-executed comic timing, a sense of silliness that meshes seamlessly with the weightier moments – case in point is a parody of those weirdly out of sync with the current era karaoke images that somehow manages to also pack an emotional punch – and an embedded realisation that we all want to belong, a pressing human need that comes with an equally desperate need at times to get the hell out of relationship Dodge.
In other words, the film gets human nature, with all the humour drawing from its astute observations about the many and varied ways we build and break down love, friendships and even familial connections.
We all want that fairytale connection but rarely do we get it, a sobering reality that provides fertile ground for Jen and Mel’s business but also proves its undoing too as the full implications of playing in this emotional grey area make themselves felt, and The Breaker Upperers succeeds because it articulates so damn, laugh-out-loud, stop-and-think-about-it well what it’s like to get it right, get it wrong and get stuck messily in-between.
If you’re a New Zealander, the comedic genius of Sami and van Beek is well-recognised, but for many Aussies, The Breaker Upperers is our first exposure to two enormously talented comediennes who manage to be hilarious (c’mon, it had to be used again) and thoughtfully insightful, often simultaneously, giving us a heartwarming film with a quirkily absurdist heart that amidst all the laughing and resultant gasping for breath, actually says something meaningful about the human condition (and the use of photos on corrugated backing as artistic statements which, if you think about it, is also important).