The Two Reviews: C’est La Vie and The Breaker Upperers

C’est La Vie (2017, France)
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano.
Featuring: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gilles Lelouche, Eye Haidara, Benjamin Lavernhe and Hélène Vincent.

This light French comedy (with subtitles) is set in a single day as it follows the preparations and mayhem of a troubled wedding celebration at a grand Chateau. Writer-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano pulled together an excellent cast to star in this light romp of mildly accumulating chaos.

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Max (Bacri) runs a hospitality company for up-market clients or clients who think they are up-market. He seems to be permanently frustrated with his less than competent staff. Max reminds me (perhaps he was supposed to) of a French chef on one of those TV cooking shows where abusing staff who are already underpaid and exhausted is somehow the standard method of achieving excellence. But ultimately he is also well meaning and tolerates their many foibles. He has a catch-cry should something not work out the way it should – ‘we adapt!’ The staff have to do a lot of adapting on this day as one mishap or complication after another unfolds as the celebrations progress. While Max oversees preparations for the big event, his moody manager Adele (Haidara) is usually having a screaming match with the singer-compare James (Lelouche). Then, there’s the laid-back, and slightly indifferent, photographer Guy (Rouve), who is getting frustrated that wedding guests line up next to him to take their own photos on their damn I-phones! The slightly obnoxious groom, Pierre (Lavernhe), wants everything ‘just so’ for his big day, or else his mother (Vincent) has her own helpful suggestions. All of this adds up to a rich mix of personalities.

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There are some very nice moments, but it is all a bit predictable – chaos descends upon the entire wedding party of course. There is a decent soundtrack that adds to a sense of partying, and the quirky personalities of many distinct individuals put a smile on my face. Technically, it is well made and has a good cast, but the premise is a bit thin. If something can go wrong it will – and that reduces the comedy to a series of smile moments. Basically, it is more mildly amusing than uproariously funny. But it is fun and ultimately heart-warming. The poster above says, ‘The new Kings of French Comedy’. Perhaps that should have read ‘pawns’. En passant.

Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 2.5/5

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The Breaker Upperers (2018, New Zealand)
Directed by Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek.
Featuring Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek, James Rolleston, Celia Pacquola and Ana Scotney.

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The Breaker Upperers is a fun New Zealand comedy written, directed and starring the comedy duo Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek. The female-led cast is helped along by a large ensemble of new and seasoned comedy actors. Friends Jen (van Beek) and Mel (Sami), jaded with love, set up their own company to help people break up with their partners – a bit like a singing telegram business – which they put to great effect in one scene. Sometimes they act as police officers informing a partner that their loved one was killed in a car crash, or they pretend to be a secret lover and so on. You get the picture. There’s a lovely quirkiness and self-deprivation in the humour that does seem to be quintessentially New Zealand. More like mates sharing a comic understanding rather than sharp gags.

There is not much of a plot, but more a series of break-up moments that are staged as a back story to their own love troubles. It’s not comedy gold, but it is affable fun. And you kind of like all of the characters. I do like one piece very much: it involves the dropped girlfriend Sepa (Scotney), who has attitude in bucket-loads, and her gang of slightly odd-ball friends. Sepa’s not impressed with ‘white girl’ Mel interfering in her relationship with her dull-witted boyfriend Jordan (Rolleston), and he can’t understand how Sepa didn’t ‘get’ his text message of a broken-heart and thundercloud emojis. It’s that silly…and funny.

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The Breaker Upperers opened the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year. It carries a bit of credit in that New Zealand director and comedy legend Taika Waititi is an executive producer on this film. And it’s a little unusual but refreshing to see a female comedy duo lead a top cast. Plenty of comedy actors get a scene or two, such as Rima Te Wiata, who plays Jen’s wealthy, carefree and sex-indulged mother, and Celia Pacquola as the serious and seriously sad Anna.

Although there’s some great comic moments – quite a few – the film as a whole kind of wanders a bit. It should build to some great climax, but it peters a little and then closes with a warm moment. Okay, not great, but not bad. It would be hard to see this film and not feel good when coming out of the cinema.

Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 2.5/5 (but some 4-star moments)

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