When people are thinking about New Zealand comedy films, they are almost inevitably thinking about Taika Waititi. Waititi, who is most widely known for directing one of the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe incranations Thor Ragnarok (2017) began his career with cheeky independent features like Eagle vs Shark (2007) and Boy (2010). His self-deprecating humour and loveable off-beat characters confront New Zealand stereotypes and celebrate them with the world. His unique blend of heartbreak and absurdity has undoubtedly inspired, and been inspired by, the New Zealand comedy scene. Subsequently, it was unusual to receive an invite to a new Kiwi comedy not directed by Waititi. Could such a small country really produce two comedic powerhouses?
The Breaker Upperers is directed by, and stars, Madeleine Sami and Jackie Van Beek. The film focuses on Jen (Van Beek) and Mel (Sami), two friends who are paid to break up unhappy unions. They take requests from a diversity of flaky spouses, and their break-up methods, while laughable, are nonetheless severe. Jen and Mel’s relationship begins to destabilise when one unsuspecting spouse, Anna (Celia Pacquola) agonisingly pleads for her “missing” husband. Jen and Mel initially got into the break-up business to avenge their own lovelorn adolescence; however, Mel realises that she no longer wishes to live such a cynical and isolated existence.
The Breaker Upperers is the first feature length joint venture by Sami and Van Beek, and it is a formidable effort. They are more than happy to poke fun at their own personal shortcomings and eccentricities, nor are they afraid to confront the childish expectation that women only fight over men. Their film is a zany, unfeigned take on the intricacies of adult relationships, and how you should not force your own cynicism onto your loved ones. Of course, Sami and Van Beek poke fun at their New Zealand heritage, especially the rap fad taking over local adolescents, but their love for the country’s self-reflexive and outlandish humour is obvious.
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