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SXSW Review: Taika Waititi Presents 'The Breaker Upperers,' A Hysterical And Heartwarming Kiwi Rom-Com... About Friendship

By Tori Preston | Film | March 14, 2018 | Comments ()

By Tori Preston | Film | March 14, 2018 |


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I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies. I admire the skill that goes into them, the way some actors are just so damn funny and charming they effortlessly make the audience fall in love with them right along with their on-screen crush. And the formula works! Opposites will attract. Embarrassment will be felt. When done right, a good rom-com tells the story of (exceptionally beautiful) people overcoming their personality flaws and other circumstantial roadblocks to find each other — filling a hole in their lives that we all just sort of accept is there. Because isn’t love, like, #lifegoals or whatever?

So I get it. And I enjoy them sometimes, when I catch one on TV or whatever. But I wouldn’t pay $15 plus popcorn & Sour Patch Kids cash to see one in the theater.

That said, I would gladly pay to see The Breaker Upperers again. It’s funny, but not in the usual rom-com way. Not even in a Judd Apatow or Paul Feig way. It’s heartwarming yet raunchy, over-the-top yet utterly believable. This is proper Kiwi comedy, from the producers of Hunt For The Wilderpeople (and by that I mean — yes, Taika Waititi). Better yet, it’s written and directed by two incredibly talented and funny women, Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami, who also star as the titular Breaker Upperers. It’s a romantic comedy by women, about women — only it’s not really about romance at all. It’s an ode to the way we can be whole, all on our own — but it’s still better to have a friend beside us. Especially a friend that’ll take off her underwear and give them to you on the street when you realize you’ve lost your own.

So maybe it’s a “platonic-com” or something?

Jen and Mel (van Beek and Sami, respectively) came into each other’s lives when they discovered they’d both been dating the same guy. But while he was just a fling to Mel, he was the love of Jen’s life. Over the years Jen has grown more cynical, filling her time with emotionless Tinder hookups without looking for anything serious. And lighthearted Mel has never been particularly serious about anything anyway. She’s looking for a good time and a laugh. Now in their late 30s, Jen and Mel are partners in work and in life, and aren’t on the prowl for other relationships of any sort.

Together they started their own company, planning elaborate ruses on a sliding pay scale to assist cowards in shaking off their ball and chain. They’ll dress up as cops and tell wives that their husband has gone missing. They’ll show up wearing a fake pregnancy belly to interrupt a wedding. And in their own way they think they’re ultimately doing some good in the world. Sure, they’re lying and making people miserable for cash, but in the end those brokenhearted souls are better off without having weak assholes in their lives anyway. At least, they feel that way until they run into one depressed former dumpee and Mel begins to develop a conscience.

Oh, and then there’s 18-year-old hottie Jordon (played by James Rolleston, the boy from Waititi’s Boy), who comes to the Breaker Upperers looking for help dumping his tough girlfriend Sepa (played brilliantly by newcomer Ana Scotney). He’s tried already, via text message emoticons, but apparently she quite get what he was saying. He’s dumb as a sack of rocks, but cute, and he thinks “Mel” is short for “Melon” and… you know where this is going, right? Jen may think they shouldn’t get involved with any of their clients, in any capacity, but Mel starts having a hard time sticking to that rule.

The film is filled with hysterically funny jokes, bizarre situations, and great cameos (if they’re from New Zealand, they’re in this movie). It’s openminded, sex positive, and there may be some mild drug use as well (if you count accidentally snorting cleaning supplies as “drug use”). The Breaker Upperers follows the story beats of a classic rom-com, with a falling out and a reconciliation and even several musical numbers (including a show-stopping karaoke bit set to CĂ©line Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”), but it’s all about two women prioritizing their friendship. The message is clear: they don’t need a man in their lives. They don’t “need” anything — they are happy being who they are! But there is a relationship that’s worth fighting for, and it’s the one between Jen and Mel.

It’s just so damn refreshing.

One final note: I stuck around for the post-screening Q&A with van Beek and Sami, and the women are just as funny and charming in person. They wrote the script together over 4 years and initially wanted Taika to direct, but… he was a little busy. Seeing what Jemaine Clement and Taika did with What We Do In The Shadows inspired them to try and direct this film themselves. Essentially: “If they can do it, why can’t we?”

Then they told a story about improvising on the set of What We Do In The Shadows. Apparently they went on a riff about what happens when female vampires get their periods… and now I want to see THAT version of movie. Or maybe do it in the upcoming TV spinoff?


The Breaker Upperers had its World Premiere at the 2018 SXSW Film Conference. *Image credit: Credit: Matt Klitscher*



Tori Preston is deputy editor of Pajiba. She rarely tweets here but she promises she reads all the submissions for the "Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything" column at advice@pajiba.com.


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