‘The Breaker Upperers’ highlights and brings to a larger audience the talents of its lead actors/writers/directors Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami.
You’ll no doubt recognise them from earlier collaborations with Taika Waititi (who serves here as Executive Producer) and Jemaine Clement (who features in an amusing cameo as a Tinder date), but here they take centre stage with an amusing comedy that surprises as it goes along.
The premise is full of comic possibilities, the duo play Mel (Sami) and Jen (van Beek) who run a business where they help people break up with their significant others by staging cons.
Business is good and the laughs come aplenty backed up by an ensemble cast which includes the delightful Celia Pacquola as the vulnerable Anna, James Rolleston as the dim-witted but good natured Jordan and Ana Scotney as the super fierce Sepa.
At the halfway mark though the film takes an abrupt turn starting to reveal the hurt that can be inflicted by the deception that is inherent in their business. As writers Sami and van Beek are also prepared to show their characters making questionable decisions and that all choices have consequences. Some audience members may struggle with this part of the story but ultimately the message seems to be one of empowerment, that no matter what choices we make in life, if we’re open-minded about how to live our lives and loving and supportive to those who matter, we’ll ultimately lead good lives. It is also an endearing portrait of the importance and positives of a close female friendship.
As directors, the pair balance conflicting emotions in any given scene, one example is a slow-mo sequence that plays up the awkwardness of an enforced striptease while also taking in the realisation of betrayal on someone’s face at the same time. They show a deft hand for portraying how perspectives and truths can be different for each character, reserving judgement of most to allow each cinemagoer to come to their own conclusions. Made on a modest budget, the film looks great and is paced well.
As performers with an improv background which values collaboration, they give their whole cast moments to shine with James Rolleston and Ana Scotney sure to get noticed for more roles following this.
Overall as a comedy it runs out of steam for a bit in the second half but the filmmakers daringly go deeper into the complexities of human relationships and for a while chart an unpredictable course.
Containing the kind of humour New Zealand is becoming famous for, this is an enjoyable enough romp and a clear indicator that there is a lot more to come from these very talented women.