dir-scr-prd Mercedes Grower
with Julian Barratt, Oliver Maltman, Noel Fielding, Kerry Fox, Mercedes Grower, Roland Gift, Julia Davis, Peter Wight, Steve Oram, Paul McGann, Seb Cardinal, Kate Hardie
release UK 27.Nov.17
16/UK 1h22
Leave me alone: Maltman and Barrett

fielding fox davis
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Brakes An improvised London comedy with a variety of separate story strands, this film has plenty of hilarious moments even though it's essentially about break ups. Structured in reverse, the first act shows several relationships coming to an awkward end, then for the finale reveals how these couples met. It's a clever idea, and the offhanded, doc-style filmmaking is engaging and sometimes entertaining. But it isn't very cinematic.

On the South Bank, Ray (Maltman) is horrified when his holiday fling Elliot (Barratt) turns up, pledging eternal devotion despite the fact that Ray has a wife and kids. In snowy Soho, Daniel (Fielding) is annoyed that the heavily pregnant Layla (Grower) is pretending like their relationship is still functional. In a spacious flat, Brinie (Fox) prepares martinis for Rhys (Gift), who is suspiciously late coming home, once again. And filmmaker Alan (Wight) is wary when he comes home to find his younger actress squeeze Livy (Davis) practicing scenes with a writer (Cardinal).

There are several other stories crosscut in between these, all offering characters who struggle to say what they mean, in fine British style. The variety of settings and economic backgrounds keeps things surprising, as does the way plot strands unfurl through improvisation. Although this loose approach means that there's a nagging feeling that the film doesn't have much to say about the way we sometimes put the brakes on relationships.

Standouts in the ensemble are Fox's frustrated housewife, who throws her head back and laughs merrily even as we see the pain in her eyes. Oram has a terrific throwaway charm as a guy trying to maintain a long-distance romance by webcam. Maltman is excellent as a guy who can't remember anything about his first encounter with Barratt's earnest stalker. And Davis is hilarious as Livy, a bundle of energy who never stops trying to please everyone in the room, even if that means launching into an out-of-tune song. Her scenes with a wonderfully deadpan Wight are the film's highlight.

Writer-director Grower's low-fi video approach would look better on a small screen, but it's still striking. And there are clever ideas thrown around all the way through, such as the pressure to be "grown-up" while lying to be polite and making important decisions based on guilt. But the little revelation scenes at the end don't really offer much insight into the nature of each of these couplings. Grower might have done better to leave these scenes out and instead indulge in some deeper involvement in each splintering relationships.

cert 15 themes, language 12.Sep.17

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