Brakes (2016)

Brakes is an improvised black comedy about uncoupling and coupling, with a uniquely original structure, written, directed and acted in by Mercedes Grower.

In My End is My Beginning

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

What starts as a confusion of vignettes coalesces into a fearless study of different kinds of relationships. Brakes begins in what’s labelled as Part 2, with a series of short scenes of nine different couples in the act of breaking up. The dialogue is improvised – but we’re thrown in the deep end and we don’t know why we’re seeing these scenes with these particular people. Is a pattern going to emerge and are their disparate lives all going to entwine at some point later on?

Some uncouplings are hilariously absurd – Julian Barrett and Oliver Maltman after a one-night stand. Some are excruciating – a tragically unself-aware, untalented actress (Julia Davis) and the much-older film director she is living with (Peter Wright). Some are hysterical (in a very distressed way) and poignant (Noel Fielding and the film’s writer/director Mercedes Grower). Some are the soul-destroying result of toxic marital boredom (Kerry Fox and Roland Gift). Or the issue that cannot speak its name, class – with fashionista Siobhan Hewlett and articulate builder John Milroy. The cast of comedians and actors also includes amongst many others Steve Oran, Paul McGann and Kate Hardie.

Just when the unexplained misery on screen becomes unbearable, Part 1 begins. And now the accumulation of short scenes goes back in time to the first meeting of each of these couples, when that first spark was ignited that brought them together initially. And everything is much more complex than we could have imagined from what went before and it all feels much more achingly real now than if we’d only seen in the other way round.

It’s shot verité-style with handheld camera and no-budget – everything takes place around London and in the open, on the South Bank, on roofs, a public lavatory, or in people’s flats. With its naturalistic improv feel it feels almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary about self-obsessed thirty-ish Londoners on the fringes of the media with their first-world problems. But it’s more than that – it’s a brilliantly conceived examination of that moment when relationships either work – or don’t work. The end result is fascinating and unique.

Brakes is released on 24 November 2017 in the UK.

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