Cinema Review: The Breaker Upperers

As the man with the Midas touch in Kiwi cinema, Taika Waititi can do no wrong. His name appears as executive producer of this, but if you go along expecting something halfway near as good as Boy (2010) or Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016) you will be grievously disappointed. Mel and Jen (Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek) run a business that has them facilitating the break up of relationships from which one member wants to be free. We first meet them dressed as police officers who have informed Anna (Celia Pacquola) that her partner has gone missing. This is followed by a number of examples of the go-betweens doing their shtick, most of them executed with a Benny Hill gaucheness that permeates the whole movie. The through-line comes when teenaged Jordan arrives at the office needing them to concoct a situation that would result in his splitting from his girlfriend. Jordan immediately falls for Mel, who is twice his age. I didn’t believe it to start with, and neither performer was able to persuade me otherwise. The script does have its moments, notably when Jen visits her parents for dinner and adjourns to the bathroom with her brother and Mel to snort lines of Ajax, thinking it’s cocaine. Otherwise, the self-conscious determination to be un-PC, with jokes about race (mostly Maori having a dig at White), wears thin and the sex gags are not so much risqué as playground crass. Belatedly, there is a focus on gender expectations, companionship and parenting, whereupon the tone shifts from try-hard funny to gentle but genuine iconoclasm – there’s nothing like an insertion of Debussy into a soundtrack to make you see through the ratbaggery that has been foisted on a character, in this case Jen. A sharp, original idea underpinned this film, but the fact that Sami and van Beek wrote it, directed it and starred in it suggests that not enough input was heard from others. Maybe Waititi could have told the girls to rein it in a bit.

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