Alongside sauvignon blanc and hobbits, deadpan comedy is a key New Zealand export thanks to the likes of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Now add to that list Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami – the writers, directors and stars of The Breaker Upperers. Their goofball romp follows Jen (Van Beek) and Mel (Sami), who met 15 years ago when they discovered they were dating the same man, and parlayed their heartbreak into both an enduring friendship and a lucrative business contriving relationship break-ups. An exhilarating pre-title sequence shows them faking deaths, disappearances and pregnancies to help a range of clients escape their romantic entanglements. Both sworn cynics when it comes to love, their bond starts to fray with the entry of a lunkhead teenage client, Jordan (James Rolleston), whom Mel falls for when she helps him dump his bolshy partner. The feeling is mutual: “You make me feel all these emoticons,” Jordan confesses.
The film skates by on droll set pieces, from an awkward dinner with Jen’s cocaine-snorting mum to a parody Celine Dion karaoke video. When the police-impersonating pair find themselves inside an actual police station, they’re forced to perform a brilliantly funny striptease to avoid suspicion. Characters represent all the shades of Kiwi nerdiness familiar to fans of Waititi’s movies like Boy, Eagle vs Shark and Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Waititi serves as an executive producer here – but the film’s cliché-busting approach to sexuality is its own thing, and its two stars have a wisecracking chemistry that fairly leaps off the screen. Imagine Tina Fey and Kristin Wiig with flattened vowels and you’ll come close to grasping the charisma and hilarity these two generate.