A Review of Brian and Charles by Jim Archer

(left to right) David Earl stars as Brian and Chris Hayward stars as Charles in director Jim Archer's Brian And Charles.

(left to right) David Earl stars as Brian and Chris Hayward stars as Charles in director Jim Archer’s Brian And Charles.
Photograph: focus resources

Simulated cinema and bizarre high concepts are a combination made in budget-conscious paradise, taking ideas that might be too strange or bizarre for producers to risk funding and presenting them in a lo-fi package that is consciously absurd – and therefore absurd. , captivating. That mindset seems to be the driving force behind director Jim Archer and co-writers/co-stars David Earl and Chris Hayward with Brian and Carlos, a feature film adaptation of his 2017 short film of the same name. Fortunately, its silly odd couple premise develops enough traction to fill a feature’s runtime, though not without some difficulties crossing the finish line.

Stylistically similar to 2014 What do we do in the shadows, this supposed human interest documentary follows the exploits of Brian (David Earl), a Welsh recluse who spends his lonely days tinkering with inventions that never manifest into anything revolutionary. Whether he’s converting a bicycle into a flying cuckoo clock that inexplicably catches fire, or dragging trawls in his shoes at the local market for no discernible purpose, Brian’s strange tendencies make him a lovable outcast. Not to be deterred by his rambling ambitions, he strives to build a robot to help him around the house, despite struggling to remember the term “artificial intelligence”. Inexplicably, their experiment works, and the strangely self-styled Charles Petrescu (Chris Hayward) is born.

Constructed from a pair of inexplicably realistic robot legs, a washing machine torso encased in an oversized shirt and cardigan, and a professorial mannequin head, Charles approaches the world with a childlike fascination. Speaking with Microsoft Sam inflection and a vocabulary developed from reading the dictionary, Charles quickly befriends Brian, who teaches this new companion all the important things in life, like how to cook cabbages or when to dance a harmonica. In a word, the relationship is cute, punctuated by Earl and Hayward’s deftly timed deadpan delivery that makes even a scene as benign as throwing darts into an exercise in charming character work.

Had the writers been content to let their characters exist in a series of slice-of-life sketches in the vein of an extended television pilot, Earl and Hayward could have easily escaped, but their desire to be a little more ambitious ends up being kind of of mixed bag. Most intriguing is the film’s notion that Charles is not simply an offbeat friend of Brian’s, but is actually more analogous to a child, with independent wants and needs that Brian won’t always be able to satisfy within the confines of his isolated estate. . When he begins to act against his creator, provoking fights and isolating himself with anguished metal music in the equivalent of teenage washing machine rebellion, this purposeful test of limits battles with Brian’s desire to protect and keep Charles for himself.

This fuels an underlying tension in which Brian fears the outside world, personified by a meek relationship with village bully Eddie (Jamie Michie) and his hesitancy to flirt with the clearly interested Hazel (Louise Brealey). These competing sets of values ​​force Brian’s character growth, which is a far from subtle metaphor for the transformative effect of parenting, where the child is no less a creature of his own making than he is the offspring of his creator.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way for the third act, Brian and Carlos loses some of its charm in sacrifice to sugary sentimentality. In an oddly misplaced placement of narrative priorities, the duo part ways for much of the film’s final half-hour, which seems intent on creating a sense of danger and angst that’s at odds with previously established absurdity. In a limitation of the mockumentary’s framing, the focus shifts entirely to Brian’s arc, but without Charles’ presence, the emphasis is placed far more on his willingness to temper his reclusive nature than on his ability to let Charles face the challenges. dangers of the world.

In fact, Charles’ agency is robbed so completely that his arc never fully recovers, his resolution restricted to a sweet epilogue that speaks lip service to a desire to explore the world that past events would surely make him question. It’s tempting to look at this flimsy resolution as a fluke of adapting the short’s proof-of-concept into a feature-length three-act structure, where the lack of adequate expansion to the initial execution of the premise led to a narrative that concludes much weaker. than its initial comic promise.

Regardless of the reason, Brian and Carlos it still remains a charming film despite itself. Often hilarious and never lacking in heart, there’s a lot to love in this tale of a cabbage-loving weirdo and his ten-foot-tall mechanical son. Even if it’s a bit thematically light and fails to freeze the themes it has into a cohesive whole, sometimes all it takes is an offbeat sense of humor and a premise weird enough to make a lasting impression.

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