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Friday, 27 July 2018

The Breaker Upperers

(M) ★★★½

Director: Madeleine Sami & Jackie van Beek.

Cast: Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek, James Rolleston, Celia Pacquola, Ana Scotney, Cohen Holloway, Rima Te Wiata.

"Alright, so we kick off first, and first team to 20 points wins."
The Kiwi sense of humour is truly something to treasure. From Fred Dagg and Footrot Flats, through to the early films of Peter Jackson, and beyond to Flight Of The Conchords and the work of Taika Waititi, there is something distinctly NZ - and wonderfully, hilariously droll - about the way filmmakers and writers in The Country Across The Ditch craft a comedy.

The Breaker Upperers is a worthy follower in the footsteps of its funny forebears. Writers/directors/stars Sami and van Beek stir up plenty of laughs in this deeply cynical tale about relationships, friendships, and womanhood. It's not perfect - in fact, it very nearly completely derails itself two-thirds of the way through - but for the most part, it's hilarious.

The pair play Mel (Sami) and Jen (van Beek), the titular "breaker upperers" - that is, they're professional uncouplers. Pay them, and they will help end your relation for you. Their techniques range from playing the other woman to pretending to be cops who deliver the sad news a person's partner has disappeared while bushwalking. Sure; it's nasty, but it's effective.

It all goes well until Mel takes a liking to 17-year-old client Jordan (Rolleston) and befriends another client Anna (Pacquola), all of which causes a schism in her relationship with Jen, who is struggling with her own anger and disappointment with the world.

For the most part, The Breaker Upperers is hilarious. Sami and van Beek are great and their chemistry is top notch. Sami's so good she even sells Mel's relationship with slightly dim teen Jordan and makes it believable. Rolleston and Scotney are also excellent, as is Te Wiata (who was previously wonderful in Hunt For The Wilderpeople) as Jen's mother, even though Te Wiata doesn't look old enough for the role.

Special mention goes to Pacquola, who is an under-rated comedic talent. Her performance as the lovelorn and lonely Anna is pitch perfect, although credit also goes to Sami and van Beek for such a wonderfully written role. Much like the leads, Anna is a well-rounded character who feels real in the scope of this black comedy, and who serves as a moral compass for the film.

Sami and van Beek have generally done a good job with the script and its characters, but there are some weak points. Weakest of all is a scene that tips this black comedy too far into the black. For the most part, the film rides that difficult line of cringe and comedy really well, but there is a moment that dips too bleak and really shakes the foundations of the film. From there it's a tough climb back, but it's to Sami and van Beek's credit that they claw their way up to find the laughs again. In fact any time the film goes in the wrong direction - an awkward, too-long stripper sequence and an unnecessary karaoke diversion stand out like the proverbial - the subsequent laughs come thick and fast, winning you back.

It's a shame the film digs itself into such a horrible hole about an hour in, because this is, by-and-large, an hilarious movie. The bad scenes are overwhelmed by the good, and the laughs far outweigh the mis-steps. The characters are great, and Sami and van Beek do an excellent job in all three of their job titles.

Those Kiwis sure know how to make a comedy, and this is the latest.

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