When we first meet the Brian (British comedian David Earl) who makes up the “Brian” half of the title of Jim Archer’s massively sweet and silly new comedy Brian and Charles, we can see straight off that this Brian’s life is a solitary one. From a ramshackle cottage buried astride the verdant moss and muck of the Welsh countryside, he spends his days growing cabbages, eating cabbages, and futzing around in his workshop slash cow-shed, tinkering with inventions that take approximately ten seconds to catch fire. They’re heaps of junk, quite literally—smashed together from roadside heaps each invention looks worse than the one before it. The fact that Brian thinks they’re anything but just that paints him as a bit of a boob. But a sweet boob, a means-well boob, and we’re led to wonder how much of that boobishness is coming simply from a lack of human interaction—like the Tin Man when Dorothy stumbles upon him in the forest Brian’s social skills have turned to rust, begging for somebody to come along and offer an oil can.
Then one dark and stormy night, the oil can cometh. Actually, it’s an eight-foot-tall washing machine with a mannequin head stuck on top, with one glowing-blue Terminator eye and a sweet little cardigan stretched around the entire business. See, Brian had tried to build a robot out of these pieces at one point and it hadn’t worked, but returning home from the store, there this slapdash riot of pieces is standing in his cabbage patch waving hello. The film has little interest in the magical how of how this happened—although Brian does theorize that maybe his pet mouse chewed some wires into place overnight, which is about as “scientific” as it gets. What this ultimately is is a simple “boy and his dog” story, and one that’s about as endearing and lovely as those things come.
By the next day, the robot’s read an entire dictionary and after a few hilarious test-runs (nobody say “Tony”) he and Brian have decided on a name for him—meet “Charles Petrescu” (voiced by Chris Hayward), who immediately comes across like a mad amalgamation of puppy, over-enthusiastic toddler, and Teddy Ruxpin Doll that somebody fed far too many growth hormones. Charles is a damned immediate delight is what he really is, and the film sparks to goofball life the second he arrives. The interplay between him, learning about the world in rhapsodic fits and starts, and Brian, who’s in awe of somehow stumbling into doing something right—and, even better, having a friend—is magic. Absolute magic. It took me all of two minutes to buy this towering junk-heap flailing around as the new love of my life, excuse me, of Brian’s life. Yeah, Brian… listen, I just really love Charles. I would die for Charles!
Of course, the more personhood that Charles stumbles into with time and knowledge and experience, the more complications swiftly arise—Brian might live alone but there is a small community dotted around him, including a shy girl named Hazel (Louise Brealey) that he’s got a crush on, and a family of bastard neighbors led by bastard dad Eddie (Jamie Michie) who are always stealing Brian’s stuff and harassing him in the grocery store. Then one fateful night on the T.V. Charles sees some hula girls in Honolulu dancing, and his small ideas of the world, once bordered, telescope out without end from there.
And if I told you to sketch out a plot with just the elements I’ve now shared you could probably tell me exactly where Brian and Charles heads from here, too. But what matter of it? We’ve seen the “boy and his dog” story a million times and there’s a reason for that—the story works, and Brian and Charles, a shaggy goofy lo-fi Brit-wit spin on the thing, works as well as it ever has. The tremendously charming voice acting from Hayward and the puppeteer work from whoever is dancing around inside that suit, aided by Hayward and Earl’s delightfully daffy script, creates in “Charles Petrescu” a character for the ages. There’s so much sweetness here, all set astride some low-stakes that never get in the way of this thing’s improbable big blowsy beating heart—plainly spoken, this is the sort of movie I’ll be throwing on during gray days from here to eternity to make myself smile.