Breaking up isn't hard to do in New Zealand's latest hilarious comedy. In fact, dumping someone you never want to see again couldn't be easier. For a fee, best friends Jen (Jackie van Beek) and Mel (Madeleine Sami) won't just do their clients' dirty work for them, but they'll come up with an elaborate scenario or even a song. Want to ditch an unwanted boyfriend via a country ditty? They'll start crooning. Certain that a scandal is the only way to stop your wedding? One of them will pretend to be the mother of your unborn child. Need something with a bit more finality? The pair will tell your wife that you're missing, presumed drowned.
Welcome to The Breaker Upperers — the name of Jen and Mel's busy Auckland business, as well as the title of van Beek and Sami's astute and side-splitting film. The duo write, direct and star, and they're an uproarious force to be reckoned with. Comedians with considerable resumes on New Zealand television (as well as parts across Taika Waititi's filmography), their first big-screen adventure together doesn't just milk ghosting an ex for laughs. It's also the kind of female-focused buddy comedy that cinema could use considerably more of, telling a tale of thirty-something women who don't have it all together. Moreover, the movie's protagonists aren't chasing the usual romantic fantasy, and don't feel like they should be doing what rom-coms tell them.
Actually, ever since Jen and Mel experienced their own respective relationship mishaps, they've each sworn to keep their love lives casual. That's easier for the pessimistic Jen than the amiable Mel, with two specific jobs thrusting their differences into focus. Firstly, the distraught wife of a former client (Celia Pacquola) keeps popping up in their lives — needing a shoulder to cry on, and making Mel start to doubt whether breaking up couples for cash is a line of work anyone should be doing. Secondly, high schooler Jordan (James Rolleston, delightfully asked to play dumb) hires them to dump his smart-talking girlfriend Sepa (breakout newcomer Ana Scotney), causing sparks to fly between the 17-year-old rugby player and Mel.
As well as giving van Beek and Sami on-screen gigs over the years, plus directing Sami's one-woman TV show Super City, Waititi has an executive producing credit on The Breaker Upperers. While the brand of dry, awkward Kiwi comedy found in Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is alive and well here, this is always van Beek and Sami's movie. They fire off gags and one-liners with such a hit rate that you might miss a few because you're laughing too much. They not only commit to the more outlandish aspects of the picture's humour, but flesh out their characters so they're much more than just a source of jokes. And, in a film with several standout musical moments, they make the best Celine Dion karaoke video you're ever likely to see.
A little bit silly, a little bit sweet, yet still thoroughly smart in its ode to female friendship: that's The Breaker Upperers from start to finish. It's the cinematic equivalent of a great (not doomed) romance — hooking viewers instantly like love at first sight, throwing up plenty of joyful surprises and then riding off into the sunset. The film itself doesn't chart that narrative path, but that's the journey it takes audiences on anyway. It's also energetic, well-paced, and delightfully diverse in its appreciation of sexuality, sex positivity, gender, race, culture, body image and going grey at a young age. If it was your date, you wouldn't be asking anyone to break up with it for you.