‘Brian and Charles’: Sundance review | Comments
Real. Jim Archer. UK. 2022. 90 mins.
There’s something quintessentially British about this absurd, sweet comedy from debut director Jim Archer. Not just in the damp Welsh fields that surround the farm where balaclava-wearing Brian Gittins (David Earl) lives alone or his penchant for crazy inventions – a trait that is likely to remind older British viewers of eccentric inventor Wilf Lunn – but in the pathetic humor that stems from his loneliness.
The actors nail the comedic beats and emotional arcs
Shot in the style of a mockumentary – although why Brian would catch a crew’s eye is never explained and the approach is more observational than interactive – it expands on the award-winning short by Archer of the same name in 2017, which spotlighted stand-up Brian, the stage alter-ego of comedian Earl (whose less innocent incarnation also appeared in Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series after life). The feature’s world premiere in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance should help it establish itself internationally, though it’s likely to find favor with audiences who are fans of Gervais and Steve Coogan. , with its warm approach and refusal to ridicule its sad main character gives it a wider appeal.
Brian’s inventions are pleasingly unnecessary, from “trawler nets for shoes” to “a flying cuckoo clock,” but his decision to transform into a robot will change his life at the same time he releases the movie of his first walking act. The robot, which unexpectedly comes to life, is just as ridiculous as everything else in Brian’s life – it’s basically a big guy (Chris Hayward, who co-wrote the screenplay with Earl) with the body of a machine. washing machine and a talking mannequin head in Stephen Hawking-style tones – but from the moment he calls himself “Charles Petrescu” he’s also undeniably adorable.
The comedy is serious business and Earl and Hayward’s deadpan delivery, paired with Archer’s maintenance of a documentary filmmaking style in the face of ridicule, which ensures the situation generates physical and verbal laughter. Brian’s freshly created assistant and darts buddy approaches the world first in a childish way, then as a bubbly teenager in search of distant adventures, as Brian grows fearful for others – and in particular, local hoodlum Eddie Tommington (Jamie Michie) – gets to know his new best friend.
The wispy plot, which is driven by the growing danger Eddie presents, is bolstered by a tentative relationship Brian begins with the equally shy Hazel (Louise Brealey, also showing expert timing). The story may be almost as flimsy as one of Brian’s inventions, resembling more a collection of sketches than a full-fledged narrative in places, but the actors nail the comedic beats and emotional arcs as the Brian’s isolation gives way to something much more hopeful.
And while much of the humor stems from awkwardness, like when Brian tries to keep Charles a secret from an unexpected meter reader, the inventor is such an endearing tester that the script forces you to succeed rather than shrink from failures. Hints of dark humor in the short have been ditched in favor of more upbeat madness for the feature, which is a refreshing change from Gervais’ darker character-driven humor. It may be cold and wet outside, but it’s as warm as Charles’ dreams of a Honolulu beach in the characters’ hearts.
Production company: Film4, BFI, Mr Box
International Sales: Bankside Films [email protected]
Producer: Rupert Majendie
Screenplay: David Earl and Chris Hayward
Production Design: Hannah Purdy Fog-gin
Photography: Murren Tullet
Editing: Jo Walker
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Main cast: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, Jamie Michie, Nina Sosanya, Lynn Hunter, Lowri Izzard, Mari Izzard, Cara Chase, Sunil Patel