'Brian and Charles' review: Charming mockumentary anchored by whimsical premise
Courtesy of Focus Features
Jim Archer’s sweet natured mockumentary “Brian and Charles,” based on his 2017 short of the same name, offers a compelling and whimsical approach to friendship. An earnest fable inspired by “Wallace and Gromit” and “Frankenstein,” “Brian and Charles” sees quirky inventor Brian (David Earl) on the cusp of a major, technological breakthrough. Living a secluded life in a remote town somewhere near Northern Wales, Brian, with a camera crew idly standing by watching all the silliness unfold, gives the viewer a tour of his home workshop and inventions, explaining how investing in original ideas and gaderty helped reshape basic life ideals.
Except most of the things Brian concots aren’t exactly useful or beneficial to society (a belt that carries eggs or a puzzle entirely made of ping pong balls), but the realm of his imagination shows no limitations. There’s a moment early in the film, where you can’t detect what aisle Brain will fall on. Is this someone I want to spend the next hour with? The answer is yes as the loner finds peace (and salvation) within himself after creating his masterwork, a handy-man/best friend named Charles (Chris Hayward) with nothing but spare parts he found lying on the side of the road. What follows is a budding friendship that never mocks or undermines the characters, in fact it’s sweet and affectionate.
Brian and Charles might be an odd bunch, but they exist within their own little world and it feels like Archer is giving a brief glimpse of their livelihood. In any other movie, a montage set to The Turtles’ smash “Happy Together” would feel cliche, but Archer plays against the conventions of the song by having Brian and Charles frolic through the countryside and garners howls of laughter. Likewise for the sincerity displayed in the performances, something Earl and Hayward perfect as they explore shared interests and a potential romantic courtship with Hazel (Louise Brealey), someone Brian has a major crush on. When he’s not helping with dating advice, Charles enjoys cabbage, walks in the garden, dancing, being the “prince of the dartboard” and dreams of visiting Hawaii after stumbling upon an infomercial. Very rarely do you see a sentient robot with such ambition!
Putting a satirical spin on the teenage-coming-of-age-tropes, Charles eventually grows weary of the arrangement with Brian, often lashing out after being cooped up inside for days at a time. Yes, it’s hilarious watching an oversized and obtuse robot, whose body is made up-of a washing machine, giving him a bulky, awkward figure, getting snippy about sitting in the front seat, but you feel for his emotions, which is a miracle when you think about it.
“Brian and Charles,” for as silly and nonconformist as it is, throws a predictable and half-baked wrench into the plot with the character of Eddie (Jamie Michie), a local bully keen on stealing Charles for no other reason than he can see it makes Brian happy. There’s a sense Archer may have backed himself into a corner with the short-to-feature length expansion as he’s forced to drum up conflict for the sake of creating tension, but Eddie never rises above a one-note character with wobbly motivations. Still, Hayward and Earl are dynamite partners who are clearly enjoying basking in the script’s flamboyant, cabbage loving attitude.
BRIAN AND CHARLES opens in theaters Friday, June 17th.