The Breaker-Upperers

* 1/2 (out of five)

Oh, in the preview screening, how we all laughed at the first scene of this eighty-one minute New Zealand comedy! And oh, how it made the silence to come, for the next seventy-eight minutes, all the more deafening.

Mel and Jen run an agency providing a service we all could have used at some point in our lives: they end your relationship for you, taking your place in the “break-up” conversation. They break hearts and face the tears; beyond that, they go to certain lengths, when deemed necessary, to add a fictional spin on the cause of the relationship’s end. In the very funny opening scene, they’re dressed up as cops, bringing the sad news of their client’s (fake) demise to his girlfriend. Deadpan, simple and elegant, it’s a good gag, well shot and played, expertly utilizing a simple prop – a small plate of cookies – to maximum effect.

Unfortunately the rest of the film completely lacks the discipline, rigor and structure of this first scene, instead going completely in the opposite direction, becoming as slap-dash, loose and slack as a mediocre stand-up’s totally improvised set. Criminally, the basic, excellent concept of the film – the Break-Up business – is jettisoned almost immediately for a third-rate RomCom plot, whereby Mel falls for one of their clients and Jen tries to deal with potentially losing her exclusive hold on her friend and business partner.

To call the script “shaggy” would be far too generous. It’s baggy and flat, and at its worst falls back into extremely tired (and insulting) tropes: the girlfriend of the object of Mel’s affection is a super-tough, super-aggressive Maori girl-gang leader whose ongoing, endless gag is, well, being aggressive. I’m not au fait enough with New Zealand culture to truly comment, but the character sure smells like an offensive stereotype to me.

At eighty-one minutes, this film is far too long. That funny first scene, about three minutes long, should have been the whole movie: a simple, successful sketch, rather than a waste of everyone’s time.

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