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D: Mercedes Grower / 85m

Cast: Julian Barratt, Kelly Campbell, Seb Cardinal, Juliet Cowan, Julia Davis, Noel Fielding, Jess-Luisa Flynn, Kerry Fox, Roland Gift, Salena Godden, Mercedes Grower, Martin Hancock, Kate Hardie, Siobhan Hewlett, Oliver Maltman, Paul McGann, John Milroy, Steve Oram, Daniel Roch, Morgan Thomas, Peter Wight

In Mercedes Grower’s debut feature, we’re introduced to a number of couples whose relationships are on the verge of breaking up, or which have actually reached the point of no return (or further investment by one or both parties). There’s Elliot (Barratt) and Raymond (Maltman), whose unexpected fling in Spain has been misinterpreted as something more permanent by Elliot. There’s Rhys (Gift) and Brinie (Fox), a couple who can’t spend time together without trading veiled insults or outright criticism, and there’s Livy (Davis) and Alan (Wight), a would-be actress and her theatrical producer partner who are finding themselves at odds over the types of roles that Livy can play. And then there’s Daniel (Fielding) and Layla (Grower), a couple expecting a child but being forced apart by his apathy and intransigence. These and several other stories show the various ways in which relationships can come to an end, and how differently people allow themselves to be affected.

All of this makes up Part II of Brakes, and is shown first. We see the characters often at their worst, and Grower shows just how selfish and uncaring we can be when we want to extricate ourselves from a relationship we no longer want to be a part of. On the flip side, we see the pain and the hurt that this approach can cause, and Grower wades through a variety of emotions and responses, from anger to disbelief, to sadness and resignation, and denial and regret. Inevitably, some stories fare better than others, with Daniel and Layla’s break up in a public toilet coming across as too absurd to be credible, and hampered by the decision to have Daniel behave like a six year old. Conversely, the austere yet stinging conversation between Rhys and Brinie is so tense and uncomfortable that it’s a relief when he goes out for beers (it also helps that Fox’s performance is particularly impressive). Most of the other scenarios fall somewhere in between, but the necessity of keeping things short (for the most part), means that if one story disappoints there’ll be another one along quite soon.

Once Part II is out of the way, then Grower presents us with Part I, in which we see how these relationships began originally. It’s a neat idea, and having seen the outcomes of each one already, the viewer can judge for themselves if any might or should have turned out differently, and it does allow the movie to end on a positive note, but the knowledge that none of these promising, hopeful unions is going to end well also leaves a bitter after-taste. With the script proving to be a hit or miss affair in terms of the stories, the performances fall into the same category. Alongside Fox, there are fine portrayals from Davis, Wight, and Barratt, while some of the cast – e.g. McGann, Milroy, Hewlett, and Oram – are hamstrung by clichéd dialogue and unconvincing set ups. Grower does show promise, and she’s able to inject some much needed humour when it’s required, but she needs an idea that she can focus on exclusively instead of a number of different ones all at the same time. That said, the movie does feature some appropriately gloomy cinematography by Denzil Armour-Brown and Gabi Norland in Part II, and a brighter, more upbeat tone in Part I, something that gives rise to the notion that if more time had been available, then this could have been so much better.

Rating: 6/10 – with a sixty per cent success rate in regard to the stories themselves, Brakes is often a frustrating movie to watch, but it does have singular moments where the breadth of Grower’s ambition is met and exceeded upon; in the end, though, it’s a movie that makes a number of telling points about our inability to communicate with each other when it matters, but which doesn’t always find the right context to express itself fully.