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Film Review: ‘Brian and Charles’ Has Plenty of Quirk But Not Enough Plot

Focus Features
Focus Features

Small scale science fiction comedies are almost entirely reliant on a good screenplay. Ace the script and the budget doesn’t matter. At the same time, it’s important that the comedy really sings, especially if you’re trying to be on the quirkier side. Brian and Charles, an independent sci-fi comedy, has parts that soar, but others that drag on the ground. Ultimately, it prevents the film from being the success it clearly wants to be. With a pure heart and good intentions, it’s impossible to hate the movie, but if you’re like me, you’ll be ever so slightly let down by it when all is said and done.

Brian and Charles wants to be the next hit crossover quirky British comedy. Parts of it really do hit on that element, but too often, it’s so dry that the humor doesn’t fully come across. Once the two main characters are sharing the screen, things pick up, and the design of the robot is quite inventive, but there’s a sense that something has been left on the table here, something that would have made it memorable.

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Brian (David Earl) is a lonely inventor in rural Wales. He spends his days building various contraptions that rarely work, not that he minds. Despite his loneliness and seclusion, he tends to have an upbeat attitude, addressing the camera in a way meant to hide any sadness. The lack of success doesn’t seem to be bothering him though, to the point where he attempts by far his biggest project yet, a robot. After three days of work with a washing machine and spare parts, he’s invented Charles (Chris Hayward). At first, he doesn’t work, but then, magically, it does. Charlies is an artificially intelligent robot, learning English from a dictionary. Against all odds, Brian has succeeded.

As Charles grows, developing an obsession with cabbages in the process, the pair develop an interesting dynamic. Brian gets more than he bargained for, but also perhaps exactly what he needed. It’s a story about family and friendship, after all, so it’s not all that surprising where the story ultimately goes.

A still from Brian and Charles by Jim Archer, an official selection of the World Cinema: Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Leads David Earl and Chris Hayward are charming in their dry and deadpan manner. Early makes Brian funny, but also sad. Hayward has Charles grow on you as he evolves, while always keeping a robotic feel to things. Their chemistry is odd, but it works. Watching them banter once the time comes is fairly amusing. Supporting players here include Louise Brealey, Lynn Hunter, Jamie Michie, and more, but it’s Earl and Hayward’s show.

Director Jim Archer plays things relatively straightforward. Earl and Hayward, writing the script in addition to co-staring, pepper in some solid comedy, but it’s surprisingly low-key. The performances are what work best, so credit to Archer there, but there’s a sense that some more visual flair or a more polished script would have done wonders for Brian and Charles. As it stands, it feels like the first draft of something really good.

Brian and Charles has elements that work. It’s no surprise that the Sundance Film Festival crowd was kind to it. It’s very much a festival indie, through and through. In terms of finding a larger audience, that remains to be seen. This one didn’t fully work for me, but your mileage may vary.

SCORE: ★★1/2

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Written by Joey Magidson

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