LFF 2018: The Breaker Upperers Review
Do you have a yearning desire to watch the single greatest Celine Dion karaoke-come-musical number in a film to date? If the answer to that is yes (and why wouldn’t it be) then The Breaker Upperers is the film you’ve been waiting for.
Outsourcing is a way of life these days – there’s even an app to find people willing to come and put together your flatpack IKEA furniture, for a price of course. There’s countless apps and websites which match potential lovers up, so it’s not a huge stretch to imagine an agency that does the exact opposite. Don’t want to go through the trauma of telling your loved one to their face that it’s over? Call The Breaker Upperers – they’ve got the costumes, the songs and the lack of any discernible empathy, the three key ingredients in running a successful breaking up agency. That is, of course, until one of them falls for a much younger client.
Directed by Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami (who both star in the film too), The Breaker Upperers details the trials and tribulations - in love or otherwise - of Mel (Sami) and Jen (van Beek), two women who run a breaking up agency service. The opposite of a traditional rom-com, Sami describes the film as a ‘womance’ as the two friends navigate heartbreak, new loves, and the difficulties of friendship alongside the nature of the business they are in. Executive produced by Taika Waititi, The Breaker Upperers has more cameo appearances from New Zealand’s hottest comedians than you’d ever imagine possible including Jemaine Clement, Jaquie Brown and Rose Matafeo.
The antithesis of the rom-com, The Breaker Upperers charts the ups and downs of a friendship rather than a love story. Love and heartbreak does come into it - Jen and Mel are integral to ending other people's relationships. The set up lends itself to limitless jokes - Jen and Mel play the part of the pregnant other woman, police officers, and even break up a gay couple on the verge of marriage ("Just because we have gay marriage doesn’t mean we don't have to go through with it.") Though the narrative is pretty straightforward, the near constant stream of jokes only enhance the story, never hindering or existing for the sake of a cheap laugh.
Sami and van Beek are the main event in terms of cast, and are glorious in their depiction of female friendship. They work together to show how breaking up with a friend can be just as painful as breaking up with a partner - something which is rarely given screen-time at all. In one scene, the two remove their friendship bracelets (getting stuck along the way of course) and again, though it is funny, the laughter is a by product of how sad we are to see the two of them fighting.
Equally, Mel's school-boy love interest Jordan (Boy's James Rolleston) is excellent and a key component of why The Breaker Upperers works so well. He meets Mel and Jen after attempting to break up with girlfriend Sepa by texting her a series of emojis (thundercloud + crying face), but she didn't get the memo. His bemused and naïvely positive outlook on the world fits with Mel ("is Mel short for "Melon?") and her own kookiness. Anna Scotney as Jordan's beat-boxing, twerking ex-girlfriend Sepa adds just the right amount of fast talking insults that the film needs. Surrounded by her own girl-gang, Sepa is ferocious and funny, and the two have their own bizarre but adorable narrative which comes to fruition by the end of the film.
The Breaker Upperers has more gag-worthy dance sequences than an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race and doesn't miss a single moment to crack a joke - penis hat or otherwise. My personal favourites have got to be the recurring police officer who is super into stripper-grams, or Jen's sex obsessed mother who is devastated that Jen is still single. I'll let you figure those ones out. This film is a real gem, one filled to the brim with laughter and joy. I challenge you to attempt to keep a straight face throughout - it's impossible. The Breaker Upperers works because Sami and van Beek know their material well, riff off each other and have phenomenal chemistry onscreen.
I could have easily watched the two of them, supported by the excellent cast, for another half an hour. Having said that, Sami and van Beek keep The Breaker Upperers to a tight 90 minutes which, again, makes it feel that much more sharp. It's fantastic to see so much talent of this calibre coming out of the New Zealand comedy and film scene, and I'm sure there will be more cinema escapades from Sami and van Beek very soon.