In a perfect world, no one would ever have to break up with their significant other face-to-face. It would be commonplace, nay, even chivalrous, to call it quits with your devoted partner of five years over the phone, through text messaging, or maybe even via a well-timed Instagram DM. The uncomfortable consequences of seeing pain and sorrow on your loved one’s face as you feebly relay to them the tired “it’s not you, it’s me” schtick, would become a thing of the past. We’d all revel in the few extra hours of free time we’d be gifted with from no longer wasting them on heartbroken tears and awkward pleas for a second chance.
Unfortunately, the culture we live in today prides itself on “mature” separations, as opposed to hiring a pair of wise-cracking BFFs dressed up as cowgirls to sing a song to your boyfriend on his front porch about how you “don’t wanna be with him no more” in terrible southern accents. But that’s why, on concept alone, the New Zealand comedy The Breaker Upperers — surrounding best friends who run a business for crafting others’ inorganic breakups — is already fiercely funny. And that’s before even factoring in the talented acting, writing, and directing chops from lead stars Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek (smushed up together into an adorable single nomenclature “Mackie van Sami” in the opening credits).
Jen (van Beek) and Mel (Sami) met when they were in their twenties, after discovering that the man that they were both dating at the same time was cheating on them with each other. They bonded over their mutual betrayal and disavowing of this unfaithful Grandmaster Cocksucker, Joe (Cohen Holloway), and since started a business called “The Breaker Upperers,” committed to upholding the same emotional independence of others as they champion for themselves. When someone wants a breakup, Jen and Mel, for a price, do it completely for them. Through an array of unorthodox methods and elaborate schemes, such as dressing up as cops and pretending a client has gone missing, throwing a couple of ski masks on and feigning their client’s kidnapping, or surprising their client’s partner with a fake pregnancy on behalf of Jen, the two ladies gleefully steamroll the sanctity of relationships.
But it all comes to a head when Mel gets wrapped up in the boyish charms of their newest client, the goofy but good-hearted Jordan (James Rolleston) who seeks separation from his headstrong high school girlfriend, Sepa (Ana Scotney). It’s strike one for Mel in Jen’s mind, who believes in leaving feelings and attachments completely out of the equation for their line of work, despite still harboring an unhealthy infatuation with Joe. At the same time, Jen and Mel face the repercussions of running into a former client’s woebegone wife, Anna (Celia Pacquola), for whom the pair devised a fake death-and-missing-body scenario for her husband to break things off. Out of guilt for what she’s done, Mel befriends Anna, and Jen and Mel confront a potential falling out. Mel’s conscious and consideration for the well-being of others has begun to rear its ugly head, clashing with Jen’s inclination for keeping things professional when it comes to dealing with their clients.
It’s a sweet and silly comedy about the powerful bond between a platonic female friendship and the empathy that’s necessary to properly function in the world. It has priceless lines such as “All the times that we played Dragon Ball Z… does that mean nothing to you?” and “Woah! Shit! …Been in all the vaginas in this car,” with Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami’s joint ability for sharp comedic writing and humorous direction on full display. It also doesn’t hurt that the actresses have palpable chemistry in their performances as well. Jen and Mel’s banter with one another plays off seamlessly line after biting line, and thus these two women’s creative proclivities meld together to produce an end product that feels very much like a truly effortless collaboration.
Executive produced by the same writer/director/actor with whom van Beek starred as a desperate vampire’s familiar in What We Do in the Shadows, a swathe of recognizable Taika Waititi regulars litters the film; a continuously surprising treat for anyone familiar with his filmography. James Rolleston, who plays Jordan, and who was the titular “Boy” in Waititi’s 2010 film, is an absolute delight, gifted with a knack for spot-on line delivery and physical comedy much like the clearly uber-talented Ana Scotney, who plays Sepa. Rima Te Wiata, the patient and compassionate Bella in 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is riotous as Jen’s horny, cocaine-snorting mother, Shona; and Karen O’Leary (one of the unforgettable constables from What We Do in the Shadows who spawned their own comedy series) plays an equally horny police officer looking for a striptease. Even Jemaine Clement appears briefly as Jen’s ill-fated Tinder date, who wants his quick and casual sex to maintain a human connection. Also, Lucy Lawless shows up, for some reason (no complaints there!).
At only 82 minutes in length (the Lord’s running time), The Breaker Upperers is a perfect Friday evening treat for fans of the understated humor that comes with New Zealand comedy. It’s a lovely female-helmed vehicle, a love letter to the power of independent women, and, conveniently, it’s available to watch right now on Netflix. In a perfect world, people like Jen and Mel could break up with our partners for us. In the meantime, it’s just a pleasure to watch them.