We’ve been deluged with found-footage horror films ever since The Blair Witch Project, but mockumentary comedies have been largely neglected ever since Christopher Guest left the game, notwithstanding Taika Waititi’s amusing What We Do in the Shadows. This weekend, Brian and Charles opens at AMC Parks at Arlington, and it’s better than What We Do in the Shadows. It’s one of the most charming comedies I’ve seen in quite a while.
A film crew follows Brian (David Earl), a bearded, gravel-voiced loner who scratches out a living fixing his neighbors’ appliances in rural Wales. He spends his loads of free time by inventing things like an egg belt that allows its wearer to carry eggs around. One day, he decides to build a robot (Chris Hayward) out of a washing machine and some spare parts, but unlike his other inventions, this one actually works, coming to life and learning to speak English by reading the dictionary. Brian bestows the name “Charles” on his creation after the robot rejects the names “Tony” and “Clive.”
Charles is a great comic creation, dancing odd jigs while delivering lines in an affectless, patrician tone and staring at Brian with the expressionless mannequin head that the inventor has stuck on him. It’s a remarkable piece of physical comedy by Hayward, who wrote the film along with his co-star. Brian’s failed inventions, too, provide much of the laughs before Charles enters the picture, as he tests out a flying cuckoo clock made up of a bike, a shopping cart, a grandfather clock, and a wind machine all hitched together. (“Whenever anyone in the village wants to know the time, they can look up in the air, and I’ll be there.”) I’m a bit disappointed that the mockumentary conceit doesn’t add another layer to the proceedings, but first-time feature director Jim Archer does know how to use the sudden pan over to something that’s happening off-camera as a way to deliver a joke.
The premise does allow its characters to transcend it, as Brian tries to keep Charles out of sight so that the village bully (Jamie Michie) doesn’t get hold of him. Charles’ chafing at this becomes even worse after Brian starts going out by himself to date a woman (Louise Brealey) who’s a similarly awkward shut-in case. Brian and Charles could easily go in a horror-movie direction if it wanted, but instead the filmmakers draw a moving portrait of a friendship and a lonely man who realizes that he needs to let his best friend see the world. Brian and Charles take on a cracked life of their own, just like the rockers in This Is Spinal Tap. That lofty comparison is something that this comedy earns.
Brian and Charles
Starring and written by David Earl and Chris Hayward. Directed by Jim Archer. Rated PG.