A scene from Jackie Van Beek and Madeleine Sami's "The Breaker Upperers"

SXSW ’18 Review: Jackie Van Beek & Madeleine Sami Bring Down the House in “The Breaker Upperers”

There’s sobbing at the start of “The Breaker Upperers,” but it isn’t long before there’s tears running down your cheeks as well, for entirely different reasons in Jackie Van Beek and Madeleine Sami’s dazzling feature directorial debut. You come to learn quickly that the crying is just a part of the gig for Mel (Sami) and Jen (Van Beek), a pair of savvy entrepreneurs who have set up a service engineering elaborate getaways for those who have tired of their partner but don’t have the guts to tell them and to do so in such a way they won’t come looking. A succession of spurned lovers can be seen bawling in the film’s ferociously funny opening montage, led to believe their girlfriend has gone missing in some faraway land or their gay fiancee may actually be straight, but as time flies onscreen for the audience, it has for Jen and Mel as well, in a deeply committed relationship with each other yet single otherwise and wondering what they should be doing with their lives as they creep towards middle age.

Executive produced by Taika Waititi, who always manages to create gut laughs that tend to sit there for a while with how emotionally resonant they become in films such as “Boy” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “The Breaker Upperers” has that same quality while showing Van Beek and Sami have their own wildly original sensibilities when Mel and Jen threaten to be broken up during a perfect storm of circumstances. The more adventurous Mel is taken with one of her customers, a delightfully daft teen named Jordan (James Rolleston), who aims to break up with his streetwise girlfriend Sepa (Ana Scotney), as the professional-minded Mel has learned that her ex Joe, the man that inspired her to start her business in the first place, is back in her neck of Auckland with a wife and kids, leaving her to wonder about the decisions she’s made to prioritize her career over her personal life. Meanwhile, the two are spotted off the clock by Anna (Celia Pacquola), a dumpee of theirs who insists on trying to find her boyfriend that she remains unaware they squirreled away.

Although it’s a great comic moment when Jen feels so lost she feels compelled to try kissing Mel to see if there’s any sparks, you realize there really is a great love story to be told about these two friends and Van Beek and Sami have the chops to tell it well, not only throwing themselves into playing Jen and Mel with caution to the wind, but showing strong instincts for cinematic comedy, allowing the movie with such sharp, suffocating humor to breathe with a beautiful widescreen presentation and perfect pacing so you won’t miss a beat. (And you know these filmmakers certainly won’t.) It’s well before a finale that involves Soul Train-esque sashaying that “The Breaker Upperers” feels like a party and while the sound yet pretzel logic of all of Mel and Jen’s machinations will keep you on your toes, it’s the witty repartee and a cast game to go anywhere for a laugh that makes the film dance. Yet as hilarious as it is, the film packs so much more of a punch because of how genuine Van Beek and Sami’s friendship comes across onscreen and despite the fact their characters make a living destroying relationships, one sincerely hopes there’s no breaking up this dynamic duo any time soon.

“The Breaker Upperers” will play at SXSW on March 15 at the Zach at 7 pm.

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