In many respects The Breaker Upperers exhibits a Netflix house style, especially in the skits sequence used at the start: rapid fire cameos that look like taster- or teaser-trailer footage. This rapid succession of zany clips is a poor appetiser for the main course, especially as none are expanded later. By the time the film proper starts we are in no doubt that the titular couple’s agency is paid by one person in a relationship to end it in whatever manner they can. It is the opposite of relationship counselling.
New Zealand comedy can be left field, as in the hilariously gruesome 1987 Bad Taste. This film is tamer. There is some saving grace in the smart-talking characterisations of the two Breaker Upperers friends, Mel (Madeleine Sami) and Jen (Jackie van Beek). But on screen examples of their breakup work are only humorous to a degree, and that is a problem, since the whole hinges on this. And it is difficult to tell if the humour centred on the Maori girl gang, whose leader wants and gets Jordan (James Rolleston) back, is dubious cliché or parody. Comedy travels notoriously badly.
At least coke-snorting can be comedic and guyed: it is here. And there are other funny moments. However, Mel’s relationship with a 17 year old rugby star, Jordan, less than half her age strains credulity as well as the boundaries of screen treatment of brain trauma victims (Rolleston was in a life-altering car crash in 2016). Bad taste or offensiveness should not in themselves, of course, necessarily be criticised, as they can sometimes expose a novel view of assumptions. However, there hardly seems to be a challenge to shibboleths here.
Sami and van Beek directed the film. Sami will be familiar to viewers of the television serial Top of the Lake; both she and van Beek have appeared on NZ TV; Rolleston took the lead in Boy (2010) and starred in two other films before his accident.
The Breaker Upperers is screened at the BFI London Film Festival on 11, 12, and 15 October 2018.