Kiwis do it better

The Breaker Upperers

It’s official, at least according to ABC’s film critic Jason Di Rosso, NZ does comedy better than Australia! He announced that when chatting with Fran Kelly on RN the other morning, and well Jason, most of us knew that already… But if proof were needed, the mad opener of the Sydney Film Festival The Breaker Upperers is now on wide release, so everyone can now judge by for themselves… It got a rapturous reception at that festival party – but let’s be honest now – its dressed-up and ready-to-rage crowd is notoriously easy to please. Now that everyone is sober and had time to reflect, how does it really stack up?

Pretty well, actually. Written and staring two female comedians Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami (both unknown here), it’s an inventive and edgy Broad City-style two-hander that gives the distinct impression that all Kiwis are both a bit thick and raging sex maniacs. The pair play Jen and Mel, best friends who run a small business that helps people pull the pin on bad relationships. “Weak arseholes who don’t have the guts to talk to their partners,” is how Jen, the harder and more cynical of the pair, describes their clientele. A quick series of naff pranks – where they disrupt weddings, turn up up at a door to sing sad country-and-western songs, play-act a jilted lover, stage a kidnapping, and dress up as policewomen to break the bad news that a partner is missing presumed dead – set the scene. It’s only when the victim of that last stunt Anna (Celia Pacquola) becomes hysterically inconsolable and then chronically depressed that Mel starts to question the inherent cruelty of what they do for a living. Her misgivings are compounded when one of their clients, an 18-year-old Maori boy called Jordan (James Rolleston) – surely one of the dimmest characters ever seen on screen either side of the Tasman – falls in love with her.

She breaks up with Jen as result, opening up another “will they-won’t they get back together” storyline which shows the sapphic nature of their relationship. Then just as the gags and the sketches start to flag (and they do, even at a brisk 80 minute run-time) its all wrapped up with a big musical song and dance routine, and everyone goes home with their feet tapping and a big stupid grin on their face. No coincidence that NZ’s comedy maestro Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Boy) is on board as executive producer, or that the much-in-Hollywood-demand Conchords’ Jemaine Clement turns up in a cameo. It’s deliriously incoherent, deliciously silly and decidedly smutty, but also relentlessly good natured. Take note, Aussie filmmakers, there’s no sneering, no gratuitous crudity, no identity politics hectoring, no one has an agenda or wants to put anyone down. These Kiwis just want to make us laugh, and they do. M from July 26. Inner west cinemas include Palace Norton St, Palace Central, Dendy Newtown, Broadway, Burwood and Rhodes. ★★★★

It’s different across the ditch

We may have a shared colonial past, but Australia and NZ have evolved into two very different places since the Brits planted the flag. One of the (smaller) cultural variations is that home-grown films usually do great local box office in NZ – the exact reversal of what happens in Australia. Just as its businesses have had to try extra hard in the face of a small local market and the massive domination of their bigger (and often predatory) neighbour, the NZ creative class has had to be more innovative and hyper responsive to demand. And so unlike their Australian counterparts, Kiwi filmmakers have developed a unique brand that its local audiences actually like, and are more than happy to pay for. Here’s some more of those NZ comedies (and where to find them)

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s 2016 hit was the highest-grossing locally-produced film of all time and smashed NZ box office records for highest-grossing opening weekend after a phenomenal reception at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It was also a modest hit in Australia, and The Breaker Upperers’ distributors will be hoping to repeat its success… It’s available for rental at iTunes and all the usual online places.


If Wilderpeople whetted your appetite for more, this 2010 blockbuster from Taika Waititi was shot in the Bay of Plenty area – an area where he spent part of his childhood. It won in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival and then eclipsed all previous NZ records before going on to become one of the most successful local releases on home soil. Available on SBS OnDemand

What We Do In The Shadows

Starring the ubiquitous Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi himself, this one-of-a-kind mockumentary was another buzzy hit in NZ. The film focuses on a group of vampire flatmates who are struggling to adjust to modern day life in Wellington, and contains one of best one liners of any cult movie: ”We’re Werewolves, not Swearwolves” Available on Netflix and the usual rentals.

Black Sheep

Aside from Hobbits and pavlovas, NZ is still known mainly for its sheep population. Not everyone is also aware those beasts are killers. In 2006 director Jonathan King risked destroying the nation’s major export industry in creating a twisted B-grade comic/horror on genetically-altered sheep. Available for rental on iTunes

Pork Pie

Although the gonzo counter-culture original (Goodbye Pork Pie) is regarded as superior, the 1981 film is no longer available. The 2017 remake was unfairly overlooked in Australia, and suffered in NZ, perhaps because of obsessive stoner nostalgia for the earlier cult hit. It’s definitely worth a look though, check our ★★★★ review here. It scored a 100% Rotten Tomato score and stars James Rolleston as the lead-footed wheelman with the magic yellow Mini, powering his way through the South Island’s best scenery with the cops and media in furious pursuit. Available on Netflix and Foxtel Now, as well as all the usual rentals.

Topless Women Talk About Their Lives 

That cheesy title means nothing. This quirky relationship dramady was a spin-off from a popular NZ TV show – and is a good introduction to the nuances of gender relationships in this land of independent, taciturn men and strong, self-reliant women. It may ( but probably doesn’t) explain why Kiwis are so ready to elect female PMs. For a dose of nostalgia, check this exchange between Margaret and David when the 1997 film made it to our shores. She loved it, he didn’t – of course he didn’t… Not available anywhere.

Reviews – Russell Edwards