BFI London Film Festival: The Breaker Upperers

The Breaker Upperers
The Breaker Upperers
Directed by Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami
Starring Jackie van Beek, Madeleine Sami and James Rolleston
Screening at LFF October 11th, 12th and 15th 2018

by Richard Hamer

Written by, directed by and starring New Zealand comics Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami, The Breaker Upperers is a story of two women who run a relationship break-up service for the desperate, unhappy and ultimately cowardly people of Auckland. Want to be rid of your partner? Mel and Jen can help stage an affair, object at the altar or – horrifyingly – pose as police women and just straight-out fake your death.

Despite the humour, there is a plain nastiness to both what the clients want, and how the duo go about doing it; a nastiness the film doesn’t shy away from exploring. Mel and Jen are complex characters, damaged by love, harbouring grudges against relationships and even – secretly – against each other. That much of the humour comes from their cynicism, their struggle to maintain a dry detachment from the heartbroken casualties of their service, is key to the film’s success, but perhaps also responsible for why its jokes, devoid of context, come across so poorly in trailers.

Yet while The Breaker Upperers is a surprisingly thorough exploration of the many kinds of relationship pressures faced by women, it is also very funny; shot-through with fantastic comic performances, and the deadpan delivery of utterly absurd things that has come to typify the current brand of New Zealand comedy. Van Beek and Sami also get to show-off their physical comedy chops with a pitch-perfect recreation of an eighties music video, and an awful lot of bad dancing. While comparisons to the likes of Flight of the Conchords or Hunt for the Wilderpeople are fairly redundant here, there are definitely enough stylistic similarities to say with confidence: If you like those things, you will probably like this thing also.

Despite the cynicism, and the dreadful, dreadful people that make up much of its character cast, The Breaker Upperers is ultimately an upbeat comedy, its message on romance thoroughly modern and kind: Gay, straight, divorced with kids or single at forty; there is no wrong way to live, as long as one lives looking forward. And while it would be presumptuous to suggest a male filmmaker would never present such a message, there is an undeniable freshness to the types of voices van Beek and Sami present, and a rich vein of comedy that is seldom mined, and rarely this well.

An executive producer credit for Taika Waititi, along with cameos by Jemaine Clement and a host of comics, suggest – if not a changing of the guard – then at the least The Breaker Upperers is a confident introduction to a whole-new generation of Kiwi comedy talent, set to take the world by storm.

I can’t wait to see what they do next.


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