Director: Jim Archer
Stars: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Nina Sosanya
David Earl has been performing some version of bumbling sad-sack Brian for some time now, and has honed the sweet mannerisms of a harmless – yet overwhelmingly lonely – British man to a tee. The lived-in quirks. The eagerness to please. The character gives off the energy of naive affability, but Earl knows just how to suggest a profound unhappiness beneath the surface. Someone who has accepted their lot but who still has room to dream.
Expanding a neat little short film from a couple of years ago, Earl and his creative partners Chris Hayward and Jim Archer bring us Brian and Charles; a sweet teatime fantasy piece set in the rolling hills of the Welsh countryside. Told in mockumentary fashion, we’re introduced to Brian, his ramshackle home, and the wealth of spurious inventions he comes up with in his cowshed workshop. On crossing paths with a sheep and her lamb, Brian decides to fashion a robot companion out of a showroom dummy and a washing machine carcass. He creates… Charles ! A quizzical, dictionary-reading robot who he treats more like a son than a friend.
Earl’s shtick as Brian is as affable as aforementioned, but Charles (co-writer Hayward) is the curiosity that draws the laughs, often from the deadpan treated responses he gives to Brian’s comments. His oddball towering physique and glued-on hair and glasses make for a whimsical visage, and his evolution from parroting toddler to bratty teen mimics, in fast-forward, an adolescence of sorts. This furthers the sense of a father/son dynamic between the two as opposed to that of a lonely bloke and his robot pal.
Charles’ appealing presence is unfortunately curtailed by a flimsy and over-familiar subplot in which local bully Eddie (Jamie Michie) steals the quirky invention, leaving Brian and his fledgling romantic interest Hazel (Louise Brealy) the task of rescuing the robot from a life of servitude. The upshot is that the film’s main attraction is missing from much of it’s final third. The movie’s human element are endearing up to a point, but anyone with a low-tolerance threshold for the twee will find their patience running dry. The narrative machinations of this act offer nearly no surprises either, making a good portion of Brian and Charles feel like something of a missed opportunity.
Less egregious – yet still conspicuous – is the flimsy nature of the mockumentary aspect, which is all-but-dropped the moment Charles gains sentience, only to resume at stuttering moments here and there through the remainder. It speaks, perhaps, to how the film evolved out of a short, though the execution is messy and suggestive of a struggle to fill out a feature running time. This perhaps also accounts for the fairly rote and uninspired narrative moves already noted. Tantalisingly, the film ends on a far more promising note, and one might readily imagine a superior sequel in which Charles interacts with a more diverse variety of players, perhaps leaning further into the faux-documentary’s potential than evidenced here.
The tone of the movie and it’s intended peers are proffered via the whimsical (that word again) score from Daniel Pemberton and it’s block-letter front and end credits, which recall both the comedies of Ben Wheatley and the entire oeuvre of Wes Anderson. The comedy mined, meanwhile, is hugely in awe of Taika Waititi, Indeed, Brian and Charles is such a good-natured, well-meaning PG comedy that it feels cruel to point out it’s flaws and deficiencies. This is wholesome, family-orientated entertainment that treasures ideas and imagination, even as it struggles to fully explore it’s own possibilities.