Brian and Charles (United Kingdom, 2022)

June 16, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Brian and Charles Poster

Watching Brian and Charles, I was stuck by an unassailable sense of déjà vu. The conversations between Brian (David Earl) and Charles (Chris Hayward) bear a startling resemblance to those I have with my 2 ½-year old daughter - exasperation colliding with obstinance. So, although Brian and Charles functions as a warped, modern-day fairy tale, there’s more than a little bit of truth to be found just beneath the surface. My sense is that parents (or anyone who has spent time with a toddler) will discover a second layer of appreciation.

The movie starts out with a faux documentary vibe, recalling This Is Spinal Tap with lead character Brian speaking to an unseen, off-screen cameraman. (Why anyone would be making a detailed study of Brian’s life is never explained.) While this technique is apparent in the early going, it fades into the background as the film progresses, allowing a more conventional approach to take over. It’s also notable that no one other than Brian seems to notice the camera crew.

Brian is an inventor living in a rural part of Wales. He’s like Belle’s father in the animated Beauty and the Beast – most of his inventions either don’t work or, when they do work, serve no practical purpose. (One example: a flying cuckoo-clock – that one doesn’t get off the ground.) One day, he decides to make a robot using readily obtainable junk like a washing machine, a mannequin’s head, and other odds & ends. At first, it appears that the bizarre-looking contraption is yet another failure…until Brian finds the newborn creation sneaking around the property. Christened Charles Petrescu, the robot gains a gradual familiarity with his surroundings, including the fact that Brian is his friend/caregiver. Charles learns quickly, develops an unhealthy love of cabbage, and soon displays a headstrong personality. He shows all the characteristics typically associated with the “terrible twos” (even though his actual age would be measured in days, not years).

The relationship between Brian and Charles might have wandered into the valley of saccharine if the filmmakers didn’t keep things from becoming too sentimental. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because although this arms-length approach (enabled in large part by the mockumentary format) avoids causing viewers sugar-shock, it also limits their emotional engagement with the characters. Subplots include the bumbling machinations of the local bully, Eddie (Jamie Michie), and his two harpy daughters, and a love interest for the timid Brian in the equally timid Hazel (Louise Brealey). These pad out the running time without appreciably improving the overall product.

Brian and Charles isn’t a long movie (it clocks in at a svelte 90 minutes) but there are times when even that many ticks of the clock seems to be too much for the material at hand. Brian and Charles started life as a short. Made in 2017 by director Jim Archer with the same lead actors/screenwriters, the 12-minute version of the story deserved some expansion but perhaps not this much. The optimum length is probably somewhere in between.

Still, it’s hard not to enjoy something like Brian and Charles where the core themes are ones of friendship and learning to live with one another’s foibles. The movie is a little rough around the edges (the budget was evidently on the low side) but Charles is surprisingly convincing for what he is. The fable-like qualities deflect some of the more obvious tech-based criticisms about Brian’s “magic touch” (you simply have to buy into the premise that this daft inventor can somehow luck his way into making something with high-level A.I.), although perhaps not all of them. Brian and Charles is a pleasant diversion, offering a few hearty chuckles along the way to an uplifting ending. One can question Focus Features’ decision for a theatrical opening – if ever a movie was made for streaming, this is it – but I don’t doubt that the road to home viewing will be short. Regardless of the venue in which it is seen, however, Brian and Charles functions as an antidote to the “blahs,” which is a laudable achievement for any movie in 2022.

Brian and Charles (United Kingdom, 2022)

Director: Jim Archer
Cast: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, Jamie Michie
Screenplay: David Earl, Chris Hayward
Cinematography: Murren Tullett
U.S. Distributor: Focus Features
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2022-06-17
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1