The Breaker Upperers (2019) by Madeleine Sami & Jackie van Beek
Review by Jessica Carr
There is something seriously powerful about female friendships. The fact that two women can fight against a patriarchal society’s habit of pitting them against each other is something truly extraordinary. It is even more extraordinary for this friendship to take center stage in a film. This is probably why when I saw The Breaker Upperers, I was immediately caught up in the chemistry of writer-director-star duo Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami. The women have clearly spent some time together in real life because it becomes very apparent when the two are cracking jokes on screen.
As the New Zealand film’s title suggests, the movie is about two women that run a break-up agency, which they started after they realized they were being played by the same guy. This has turned them both into entrepreneurs of a mostly cynical nature. They come up with schemes to get their clients out of any relationship. Their business puts Mel (Madeleine Sami) and Jen (Jackie van Beek) into some morally dicey situations including one where they dress up as cops and tell a woman that her husband has drowned. In reality, he has just decided to take the coward’s way out and start a life for himself elsewhere. The film shows the duo go from case-to-case telling similarly heartbreaking lies in each one.
But in true Kiwi fashion, the film keeps its momentum with the comedy, especially when Mel becomes involved with a way, way younger man (don’t worry, he is totally legal). Jordan wants to break up with his hardcore girlfriend Sepa (Ana Scotney), so he enlists the help of the Breaker Upperers and accidentally falls for Mel (or Melon, if you prefer). Once this plot point comes into play, the humor in the film is ramped up. In one of the funniest moments of the film, Jen goes to find Sepa who is working at a bank. She starts to talk to her when Sepa calls on her crew to come out and they are ALL also working at the bank. This scene combined with both the Celine Dion karaoke dream sequence AND the KC & JoJo, “All My Life” dance number were enough to have me howling with laughter. Also, a cameo from a very hairy and mustached Jemaine Clement wasn’t too bad either.
I’m so glad Taika Waititi is producing films and using his notability to boost other New Zealand film talent. Van Beek and Sami are able to write a subtle feminist buddy comedy that touches on race, female sexuality and friendship. Through all the humor, there is still an emotional core to the film that feels so sincere. It’s about friendship, love and finding what really makes you happy. The ending does wrap up a bit too nicely, but it is one of the better endings I’ve ever seen in a female buddy comedy. It isn’t too obvious and it shows that both leads have learned something valuable over the course of the film. If you’re looking for some feel good humor with a touch of New Zealand quirk, then The Breaker Upperers is on Netflix now.