Director: Mercedes Grower
Screenplay: Mercedes Grower
Starring: Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding, Julia Davis, Paul McGann
Year: 2016
Duration: 88 min
Country: UK
BBFC Certification: 15

Improvisational comedy can be a bit of mixed bag –when the director provides the actors with a good framework to build from, such as This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show, the results can be hilarious. The flipside can result in some truly painfully unfunny films that are a drag to get through. Brakes, the directorial debut by actress Mercedes Grower, is one such film.

Shot on a tiny budget over a period of four years, Brakes follows nine London couples as they fall in and out of love. The twist is that we see their stories in reverse starting with each relationship falling apart before the film switches so we see the joy and thrill of the beginnings of love. The cast is truly impressive including comedy greats Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt and Julia Davis, as well as recognisable faces such as Steve Oram, Roland Gift, Paul McGann and Kerry Fox.

Opening with Elliot (played by Julian Barratt) bringing an ice cream to Ray at his place of work, it becomes apparent that they had a drunken one night stand in Barcelona. Elliot has become so infatuated that he has moved his life to London, but Ray is obviously not interested.

Julia Davis plays a typically grotesque character, Livy, an actress who obviously lacks talent. She lures Karl to her home under the pretence of rehearsing for a film they are both cast in. A role she only seems to have earned by living with the producer.

And in a darker storyline, Grower plays heavily pregnant Layla, who insists that Daniel is the father. Noel Fielding plays Daniel, a hipster working in a Soho sex shop, who constantly kicks around a football. It is clear that both he and Layla have drug problems which may or may not be the root of his reluctance to step up and support her.

Unfortunately, Brakes wastes the impressive cast that Grower has assembled – all of the characters are one dimensional and simply unrelatable. The lack of budget also hampers the film with shaky handheld photography that is supposed to add a sense realism, but actually jars and pulls the audience out of the film. The audio is tinny and at times the dialogue is inaudible.

Like many actors, Grower has obviously wanted to work behind the camera, and Brakes is her pet project. She is fortunate to have a lot highly talented actors as friends, who have been happy to help her out. However, after enduring Brakes, I implore her to stay in front of the camera in future.

Brakes is released on DVD by Bulldog Films

1.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Neil is a practicing Buddhist with far too unhealthy an appetite for violent films and video games. His young son also objects to his love of grindcore music, claiming it "makes his ears bleed". Kids, eh?

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