With Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s growing popularity – the former involved with Marvel and the latter with Disney Animation – New Zealand comedy is a genre on the rise. Arguably gaining initial traction with Flight of the Conchords and later What We Do In The Shadows, the quirky aesthetics and awkward dialogue have now entered into the global popular culture – ‘werewolves not swearwolves’ is a quote understood by people beyond Australasia. The Waititi produced The Breaker Upperers follows in this grand and emerging tradition as a Netflix Original Movie, so despite my love of the genre, the likes of Bird Box had made me apprehensive. Regardless, there was a decent amount of fun to be had with this women-led film, despite a disappointing level of normalcy.
The plot of The Breaker Upperers is essentially what it sounds like – best friends Jen and Mel run a business in which they assist people in breaking up with their significant others. Their methods range from singing country songs in cowboy outfits about how the relationship is over, to posing as the police and falsely reporting to shocked loved ones that the client has been found dead. This is a premise that slaps you in the face with black comedy right off the bat, establishing that our leading ladies are far from the best people. This was initially refreshing to me; aside from Dee in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, there are few comedic female characters onscreen who don’t hold the burden of being likable role models. So unfortunately, the biggest mistake the film makes is expecting us to care about them.
Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek have excellent chemistry as Mel and Jen respectively, and a solid amount of the many, many jokes they make land. And if the film was more about them working at their business and interacting with each other, this chemistry could have been utilized to its full cinematic potential. But sadly, the narrative decides that they need an inevitable falling out, partially caused by Mel’s relationship with 17-year-old client Jordan – played with a glorious naivety by James Rolleston. Personally, I found that this age gap worsened the issue of Mel’s likeability, making me rather uncomfortable at several points, and damaging the arc of the central friendship in particular. To be frank, why should I care if these despicable people stay friends?
After the wonderful opening montage of the various breakups they have caused, The Breaker Uppers becomes painfully predictable, succumbing to a three-act Hollywood screenplay and artificial conflict in order to maintain its already short runtime. Many hilarious moments – such as with Sepa and her crew – are undercut by more serious scenes. This causes the film to lose its comedic momentum, but they aren’t truly able to substitute it with any profundity or heft. There’s a message buried somewhere in there about maturity and selflessness, but it’s coated in several layers of the more saccharine, obvious elements of mainstream American filmmaking.
Ultimately, I enjoyed The Breaker Upperers for its performances and dialogue, as well as it’s well executed aesthetic choices, and I feel as though Sami and Van Beek did a commendable job as joint directors and writers. If they had let loose slightly more in the overall trajectory of the initial idea, allowing it to truly run wild, the final product could have been far more interesting. Instead, it’s a middle-of-the-road Netflix comedy to stick on when you’re too worn out to watch anything more experimental.