Review: The Breaker Upperers

Breaker Upperers poster

New Zealand is positioning itself to become a cultural force in comedy, a move spearheaded by director Taika Waititi. Through his production company Piki Films, he is seeking to give aspiring Kiwi film-makers the opportunity to reach a wider audience, with this female-led flick being just the latest of his successes.

Aucklanders Jen (Jackie van Beek) and Mel (Madeleine Sami) are best friends who operate a small business specialising in break-ups. One of their packages involves dressing as police officers to inform a Significant Other that their partner is missing, presumed dead, a method they use in the beginning of the film on the inconsolable Anna (Celia Pacquola, TV’s Rosehaven). Not much later, dim-witted teenager Jordan (James Rolleston) hires the duo to end the relationship with his long-term girlfriend Sepa (Ana Scotney).

Almost immediately, Jordan finds himself attracted to Mel, feelings that she mutually reciprocates. It’s an attraction that displeases Jen, who is fearful that such a relationship will harm both the business and their friendship. Also putting a strain on that friendship is Anna, who Mel is feeling rather guilty about – going against protocol, she does a follow-up query as her policewoman alter-ego, only for she and Anna to accidentally become mates.

Taika Waititi has been a very busy man of late, having helmed the blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok and started directing another project, Jojo Rabbit. As of such, Waititi merely takes on a producing role here, leaving Sami and van Beek to fulfil directorial duties. The women – who have previously directed projects for film and television – do so admirably, with their movie having consistent pacing, smooth editing and good photography, whilst also providing a manic, Waititi-esque energy.

In addition to being co-directors, the two ladies are also responsible for writing the script, which is where their weaknesses are most evident. They’ve concocted a premise that is both clever and unique – it’s surprising nobody else has thought of a break-up agency until now, given the comedic potential – but instead of exploring the work Jen and Mel’s business does, the script opts to increasingly focus on their private lives, which dullens the liveliness.

Consequently, this reviewer is led to believe that The Breaker Upperers might work better as a television series, rather than a standalone feature. Such a series could see Jen and Mel work for a different client every episode, provide more opportunities for banter between the two, and allow for a larger supporting cast. Or, better still, it could give the supporting players in this movie a greater presence, thereby allowing them to better showcase their comedic talents.

Such players include Angella Dravid, who plays Jen and Mel’s cleaner/secretary Jodie; Rima Te Wiata as Jen’s upper-class, cocaine-consuming mother; and the multiple members of Sepa’s posse, all of whom make brief, but funny, appearances in the story. Yet the actor who proves funniest is James Rolleston, a constant of New Zealand’s screens who hasn’t fully shown his abilities as a comedian until now – with every one of his lines timed perfectly, it’s as though he was born to play the role of Jordan.

Taika Waititi has given the world two talented comediennes in Sami and Van Beek, whose confidence on both sides of the camera suggests a bright future ahead of them.  Although their film is not as lively as it could be, a hilarious cast ensures that The Breaker Upperers is an enjoyable romp.

3.5 stars


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