Cult Classics: The Breaker Upperers

Not many comedy films begin with a character sobbing her heart out in a heart wrenching way but maybe they should if they’re as funny as this recent effort from New Zealand. Directed by, written and starring Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek, the duo deserve a huge amount of kudos for creating one of the funniest and heartwarming films that I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Sami and Van Beek star as Mel and and Jen, two women who run The Breaker Upperers agency which helps end relationships, or as they put it “We’re not breaking any laws…We’re just guiding two souls towards inevitability”. The concept is efficiently explored in an opening montage which sees the women pretending to be pregnant, a secret lover, or faking deaths or baptisms, whatever is the most effective way to split a couple up, with their being a different scale of charges depending on the complexity of the breakup (missing persons being the most expensive apparently).

Jen feels a little like a Julia Davis character, but less extreme and cringeworthy to watch, while Mel is a sympathetic and caring sort who feels sympathy for some of their victims, and when Jordan (James Rolleston) enters their lives and asks them to help break up a relationship she begins falling for him, and also feels sorry for Anna (Celia Pacquola) who can’t stop crying due to her relationship ending. This puts a strain on the friendship between Jen and Mel, as does the fact that both once dated the same man, Joe, without being aware of the other, and Jen has never really gotten over this.

Essentially a celebration of female friendship between two quite different characters, the film is a smart, intelligent take on both sexual and platonic love and packed with a great deal of memorable moments, from a sex scene between Jen and a tinder date (Jermaine Clement) where during the act she reveals “I don’t like people” to a sequence where Jen and her brother do cocaine at their mother’s house and when the brother asks Mel what’s happening she responds “She’s having a flashback”, which might seem a bit meta and reality breaking but the film is so charming they pull it off.

Also extremely funny are their various adventures breaking up couples, Jen remembering the breakup with Joe as if it were a karaoke video (which may just be my favourite scene in a movie full of fantastic ones), and Mel and Jen having to pretend to be strippers when they’re trying to fool Anna in to thinking that they are real police women. James Rolleston also gets some great lines as the dumb but sweet love interest, and a scene with Rose Matafeo in a supermarket is gloriously funny too.

On the downside the plot is a bit predictable as it follows rom-com rules by having the Breaker Upperers break up themselves, and there’s a section which follows where both are rather maudlin, Jen especially when she reconnects with Joe in a deliberately painful moment, but the ending is so joyous that I can’t complain too much. In fact I’m going to stop right now as this is mostly a truly lovely film, it has an inventive, witty and knowing script, superb performances and an ending which will melt the coldest of hearts, so yes, even Theresa May would be smiling by the end of it.

Alex Finch.

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