Taking some ‘Brakes’

After a hectic social period I went into hermit mode on a recent weekend. Enjoying my time working on craft projects (and drinking copious amounts of tea) it would have to be a very good reason to make me leave home (aka The Pyjama Palace). The beautiful Rio Cinema did just that.

On the Sunday evening they hosted a screening and Q&A of the off-beat film Brakes, written and directed by emerging London talent Mercedes Grower. Billed as an antidote to Richard Curtis’s Love Actually, it follows a similar format of a series of encounters between various couples but instead of a seasonal saccharine soppy love fest, these couples were all breaking up.

The ensemble cast listed some impressive names including Julia Davis, Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt, Paul McGann, Kate Hardie and Grower herself to name only some. The list alone was enough to get me out of my pjs and into the cinema.

Ensemble cast
Advertised as a comedy I had to giggle at the opening credits warning the viewer that this film was not for the faint of heart. They’re not wrong, but I found it immensely enjoyable – even through all the cringing.

The film is cleverly set out in two parts, playing in reverse order so after we have watched all the couples break up in ‘Part Two’, we are shown how they got together in ‘Part One’ which leaves a hopeful and optimistic sense. 

The couples range across many types of relationships, long distance, long term, co-habiting, married and casual. There were many funny moments sprinkled among the sadness and anger. Most of the conversations were frighteningly relatable and I did recoil in my seat a little faced with so much almost relentless awkwardness. (That warning was fair) 

Following the film, Grower herself was joined on stage by Kelly Campbell, Kerry Fox andRoland Gift from the cast. Congratulated by our host on her immense solo effort in making this film, Grower replied that it was an organic process and she had enjoyed making this project with friends, reflecting her own experience as an actress.

Panel from left; Host, Grower, Campbell, Fox and Gift
Describing her intention in telling the stories ‘backwards’, Grower said that the appeal was it’s impossible to do that in real life. She also made a conscious decision to avoid any dating site/social media meetings among the couples, all of the meetings occurring in person, stating she felt that including digital meetings would add a superficial layer to the film and that it would take it to a different place that she had intended.

Campbell, who’s character Maeve was in the long distance relationship with Steve Oram‘s character John, commented on how much fun she had on the shoot. Her break up scenes took place over Skype but she said they were shot in Oram’s house so she could hear him in the next room while they shot.

Fox and Gift played a married couple who’s break up was calm but very passive aggressive and angry which, for me, made it one of the saddest. It added so much more to their brief meeting scene at the end of the film, even though you knew it wouldn’t end happily for them, you still wished them well. 
From top left: Fox, Gift, Grower and our host
Our host also mentioned the featuring of London throughout the film, with views of the city appearing frequently and more than one couple being shot on rooftops. Grower mentioned that was intentional with London being her hometown, it was honoured as its own character in a matchmaker capacity.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was refreshing to see a realistic depiction of humans in love and all the complication that can arise. I left the cinema feeling uplifted despite the squirms and hopeful despite the bitterness.

Screenings as well as Q&A sessions are occurring across the country, check out the listings to find one near you.