Brakes review: Mercedes Grower writes and directs this an improv-based dark comedy set in London.
Brakes review by Awais Irfan.
The romance genre is perhaps one of the biggest out there, with no shortage of good and bad love-stories. Director Mercedes Grower is the latest to tackle it, making his directorial debut with Brakes, an unconventional story of relationships from end to beginning.
The film is split into two parts, with the second taking place first. Here, we follow a handful of couples at the end of their relationships – the cast features the likes of Julian Barratt, Kelly Campbell, Noel Fielding, and Seb Cardinal, amongst others – whether it be due to boredom of each other after some time married or a few dates here and there not resulting in much or something or the other. Part 1 fills the final third of the film and documents how these couples met, finding them at the start of their relationship, so deeply infatuated and enamored with one another. It’s a nice contrast and a very fresh and atypical way for the narrative to develop – looking at the end of the relationship first, then showing us how it started.
Here, rather than see the story develop and invest in as it plays out, Grower throws us straight into the deep end and asks us to take that leap of faith without any knowledge of any of these relationships or characters. There’s something perhaps a little bittersweet about seeing the romances develop in the final act of the film because we already know that they will end – and exactly how they will too – so it’s fascinating to see how drastically things have changed in the time from part 1 to 2. The problem that develops with this method of storytelling, however, is this disconnection from the characters and the various relations. We don’t know these people, we haven’t been given a chance to see them and see the relationships grow so it’s a little difficult to invest in any as a result of this. This leaves the film quite hollow and vacant for most of its runtime; the character interactions are interesting enough, but we just don’t care about the fallout.
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The acting is pretty competent, overall. The chemistry between these actors is strong, stronger with some pairings than others; it’s easy to believe that these various relationships existed at one point or another. The connection between the couples is certainly delivered with conviction and vigor. There is the occasional performance that feels a little wooden at times but, for the most part, the acting is fairly satisfactory for what the film needs. From a directorial standpoint, Grower’s storytelling is intriguing. The characters and the relationships between them don’t quite resonate as Grower perhaps hoped but it’s interesting enough following these stories backward. However, visually, this film is bland and mawkish; the film adopts a robust, DIY, student aesthetic but it looks cheap and unfinished and it’s a bit of an eyesore after a while too because of the lackluster video quality.
Brakes has some fascinating concepts at its core – in its unconventional approach to storytelling to its thematics ad uncommon look at love: even sincere connections can fall apart. For a directorial debut, that was all improvised by the actors, it’s competent work from Mercedes Grower. But the film lacks the execution and oomph to actually stand-out as it perhaps could have with a little bit more of fine tuning and polish; it’s a good start, albeit if it hit the brakes a little early.
Brakes review by Awais Irfan, November 2017.
Brakes is released in UK cinemas on Friday 24th November 2017.