The core idea behind dark British improv comedy Brakes is a great one. Gather together a litany of the UK’s best alternative comedians and ask them to conjure for us a series of vignettes tied around the idea of break-ups and meet-cutes, all with the city of London as the backdrop. Sadly, said idea is hampered primarily by a too rough around the edges approach, eschewing formal clarity and presentation for a raw ‘one take is enough’ spontaneity.
Indeed, the biggest crime is wasting such a cast on what does amount to, at times, a student film level of picture, sound and editing quality. This isn’t always present however, and when the film manages to get its act together and actually present us with some compelling visual prowess, there’s some nuggets of greatness to be found.
The trouble with reviewing comedy is of course its subjectivity, and this is amplified even more by the improvisational nature of the film. While I would say that I’m a fan of most of the featured comedians’ previous work, most of the humour is extremely subdued, and at times, basically non-existent. Part of this may be due to the conflict between the subject and the genre. Most of the time, the break ups are far too shouty and filled with actual drama, with very few instances of actual humour being able to shine through, dark or not. On the total flip side, the best of the film is in the Part 2 occurring approximately three quarters of the way through, where we see the doomed relationships’ first beginnings.
Here we have almost a completely different film, with a great range of sensitive and joyful sketches about people finding each other in unexpected places. Still not much comedy to speak of, but it’s admirable that the actors are able to fully improvise long drawn out scenes that follow graceful arcs and realistic conclusions.
To summarise, fans of the cast should check it out to see how the fare at improvised drama, but maybe skip out if it’s humour that you’re looking for. For any undecideds, there’s a great many better films on the subject, with far better presentation to boot.
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