At the heart of Brian and Charles, year’s Sundance London Audience Award winner, is a simple question of companionship, the lengths people will go to alleviate loneliness, and a robot who is half washing machine.
Brian (David Earl) lives alone on a semi-dilapidated farm in the Welsh countryside. Only venturing into town to visit the shops, or do odd tasks, he spends most of his time creating items that range from a “pinecone bag” (a bag with pine cones superglued to it) to a flying cuckoo clock that quickly catches on fire when attempting take off.
It is in this atmosphere of creativity and isolation that Brian eventually creates a robot, who names himself Charles Petrescu (Chris Hayward), and discovers a penchant for eating cabbages and an obsession with visiting Honolulu. That is to say, this isn’t your avenge film about human-AI interaction.
The script, penned by Earl and Hayward, is based on a twelve minute short film from 2017 that was also directed by the feature’s director Jim Archer, is a wonderful mix of profound depictions of loneliness and mildly absurdist language – Charles asking “can birds do that what they like” is one of the moments that manages to capture these elements perfectly. Unfortunately, in adapting a twelve minute short into a ninety minute feature means that elements of cliché and predictability are allowed to undermine the wonderfully ramshackle nature of the first half of the film.
There’s the village bully Eddie (Jamie Michie), whom everyone is afraid to stand up to, and has no other purpose that to provide an element of drama into proceedings – his family include a criminally under-used Nina Sosanya – and Louise Brealey as Hazel, a timid love interest who helps to bring the equally nervous Brian out of his shell. If these were more fully fleshed out characters, it might make for a less jarring addition but as is it simply distracts.
It’s a shame, because there is something beautifully odd at the heart of Brian and Charles. The mockumentary nature allows for the film to lean into the whimsy, to let the little interactions between Brian and his robot bestie to blossom, for Brian’s own mental processes to be given time to breathe without falling into sentimentality, and for Earl and Hayward’s comic timings to truly shine.
Brian and Charles taps into a perfectly odd vein of humour, and despite it’s flaws is still laugh out loud funny throughout – it simply feels like it was a idea stretched thin at the edges.
‘Brian and Charles’ is currently out in UK cinemas.