Director: Mercedes Grower
Cast: Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt, Mercedes Grower, Paul McGann, Julia Davis, Kerry Fox, Steve Oram
Watch Brakes online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalKTalk TV Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play
There’s low budget and then there’s really low budget – and Brakes is unabashedly the latter. The anti-romantic-comedy from director Mercedes Grower is the kind of micro-budget filmmaking that makes film festivals interesting and can often struggle to find a big screen release. What a treat it is, then, to see Brakes get the day-and-date treatment in UK cinemas just in time for Christmas – although it’s perhaps the last thing to watch to get into the festive spirit.
Dark and incredibly honest, it’s a film that overcomes its minuscule cost through sheer sincerity alone – a sincerity that’s held together by some sticky tape, a confident director and a superb cast. That includes such people as Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt, Paul McGann and Julia Davis, all of whom put in excellent performances in an anthology of mini-romantic tales.
It’s fragmented approach that perfectly fits the film’s premise, which follows relationships back-to-front, putting the painful beak-up before the happy heads over heels. The result doubles down on the production’s raw aesthetic, reinforcing the impact of the scuzzy handheld shots, Skype sessions and low-key encounters in toilets. (One scene, rather brilliantly, is shot outside the National Theatre, without stepping inside building, which presumably cost too much.)
Some of the narrative threads are stronger than others, and some flourishes are perhaps a little too relied upon for character shading – Noel Fielding repeatedly dribbles a football, but is easily good enough without the prop – but the standouts are genuinely engaging and moving, from Oram’s awkward online chats to Julia Davis’ actress unsubtly trying to seduce a director in an audition. The comedy, meanwhile, is nicely balanced with the gritty melancholy – within minutes, we’ve seen the brilliant Julian Barratt attack a man with an ice cream cone by the River Thames, which is as entertaining and disturbing as it sounds.
Crucially, the result is a tapestry of relationships that convince, with Grower deftly juggling the tones, characters and locations in a decidedly unpolished manner that disguises how precise the piecing together of her puzzle is. The title may not immediately grab your attention, but as a calling card for a promising filmmaking talent, Brakes is something worth stopping to see.