From Thor to Justice League we’re a little comic book dominated in the movie world these days. With all the bright colours and loud action pieces sometimes it’s nice just to strip all that back, take a breather and delve into something a little more personal. That’s exactly where Mercedes Grower comes in with Brakes, a character focused film with very little budget behind it, but what it lacks in sheen it makes up for with heart and a genuine nature that audiences will respond greatly to. In short Brakes tells the tale – multiple tales in fact – of heartbreak and the end of relationships, showing couples at the end of their journeys and then taking us right back to the start. This contrast of emotions is something we can all relate to as we’ve all been there, and Brakes has a darkly comedic script that finds laughter in the bleakest of situations.
Grower’s cast plays like a who’s who of famous UK talent, bringing together some of our great comedy names. Fans of The Mighty Boosh will be happy to see both Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, the latter certainly not in Bake Off mode, alongside other recognisable people such as Julia Davis and Oliver Maltman. Even more exciting is the casting of Paul McGann, known for Withnail & I and Doctor Who, a guy who’s criminally underrated in the industry and deserves a lot more credit for his work. Once you get past the fun of spotting familiar faces Brakes delivers a no-frills look at various different couples and their issues. This all takes place in and around London which really adds to the overall feeling of realism and throwing us right into the action as if we’re a bystander simply witnessing these awkward interactions in public.
It’s no surprise that improvisation was behind a lot of Brakes, as it certainly feels that way rather than a tightly controlled script. That element lends itself to the relationships being believable and feeling completely natural where other comedies often fail to deliver this. Grower clearly knows what she’s aiming for, wanting to offer a number of unique but relatable scenarios, each sharing common ground but delivering something completely different. Barratt and Maltman get to have an awkward and cringeworthy battle of words involving ice creams down near the river, while Davis and Peter Wight focus more on career ambitions and the impact of lies.
Grower makes sure the structure of Brakes isn’t the star and doesn’t become a gimmick. Instead it’s used to illustrate the positive nature of these couples and how far they’ve fallen. Whether it’s a full on break up or simply some awkward conversations we are drawn into this uncomfortable world and given the truth warts and all. Kerry Fox, with an incredible resume including Shallow Grave, delivers one of the more intense performances but arguably she isn’t given enough time to develop this. It’s the only downside to Brakes in that we’re looking at so many different couples in such a short space of time. Could one or two have been left out? Probably but I wouldn’t want to be the one choosing. Clearly Grower didn’t either.
It’s interesting to go back and see how different the couples are when they start. Kelly Campbell and Steve Oram make for a great first meet yet at the end they’re almost unrecognisable and a world away from that wonderful beginning. It’s a truth that many of us have been through and we understand that people change over time, and so Brakes plays on this and actually makes us quite sad for a number of couples. We’re shown how happy they were and how well things worked, and yet we now know the desperate endings they find themselves stuck in. As ridiculous as some of the characters are, Grower is clever not to let that run away and dominate the conversations, always keep it grounded. Brakes is a charming, crazy and sentimental film that will resonate across the board.
Director: Mercedes Grower
Cast: Julian Barratt, Kelly Campbell, Julia Davis, Noel Fielding, Kerry Fox, Mercedes Grower, Martin Hancock, Oliver Maltman, Paul McGann
Run time: 88mins
Brakes is in selected cinemas and available on demand now.