When The Breaker Upperers debuted at Austin’s South by Southwest film festival in March of this year, it was to the kind of uproarious international delight that Kiwi culture so fitfully feeds on – so much so that Variety described writer-director-stars Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami “a female version of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement”.
However I may feel about the use of the “female version” label (hint: mad) this warm reception is well deserved. While Waititi gets an executive producer credit, The Breaker Upperers is a rare and riotous glimpse at what the women of the New Zealand comedy scene are capable of.
The titular breaker upperers are Jen and Mel (van Beek and Sami respectively), best friends and romance cynics who, for a fee, will end their client’s relationships for them – whether that be via a singing telegram, mock pregnancy or even a few faked deaths. Yet even as business is booming, the cracks are beginning to show, both in Jen and Mel’s relationship and the rather flawed ideology on which their careers are based.
Where this all leads will likely not be a surprise to many (personal epiphanies and dance numbers, to give you a hint), yet with a kind of banal surrealism underlying even the more formulaic moments of The Breaker Upperers, van Beek and Sami never let things go stale.
It’s not hard to see how it would sell to an international audience, happily perpetuating the (not entirely untrue) myth of a country populated by neurotic yet polite weirdos with maybe lower than average emotional intelligence. Yet even when The Breaker Upperers is at its most quaint, there remains a spark at its core that gives even the too-neat ending an edge.
With the kind of performances that should, by rights, make everyone involved a big rich movie star (a fabulously gormless James Rolleston often threatens to steal the show) and cameos from just about every New Zealand comedian imaginable, The Breaker Upperers is brimming with proof that, given the chance, Aotearoa’s female talent have their own stories to tell – and are no less hilarious in doing so.