The Unicorn Scale: The Breaker Upperers

3/27/2019

Hey howdy hey, readers! I don’t know if I can speak for everyone on this point, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed with options on what shows or movies to stream. I can’t think of a party I’ve attended in the last seven years where I didn’t get some recommendation on what to watch. It usually goes something like this:

Peggy Partygoer: (mentions some show) Have you watched it?

Me: Nope.

Peggy: (eyebrows shoot for the sky) Oh, you just have to watch it. It’s streaming on (insert streaming service here.)

Me: I’ll add it to the list.

We order another round.

Repeat ad infinitum.

Sometimes I get to this mental list, and sometimes I don’t. There is just so much stuff to watch, y’all. I ingest heaping amounts of media, but even if I went full Andy-Samberg-opening-the-Emmys, I still wouldn’t get to all of it. I’ve made my peace with that, and I’m sure most modern people with access to a modem have as well. It’s just a part of life these days.

Of course, that’s not to say I don’t still take weighted recommendations. I fired up Netflix a few weeks ago and saw the promo for 2018’s The Breaker Upperers, I cracked a smile and put it on my mind-boggling long queue. But then at a dinner party a little while ago, a Peggy brought up the comedy and mentioned one of the main characters was bi.

Ding, ding, ding! She said the secret word! It was time to get a-streamin’!

Before I elaborate on my findings, it’s imperative for me to go through a few warnings, disclaimers, and what-have-yous. First and foremost, my review will contain spoilers. There is also a questionable relationship that the film explores as far as American standards go – this may be a worldwide website, but I most often get flak about these discrepancies from my brethren. Just giving a heads up now. Oh, one last thing – if you’re not familiar with what the Unicorn Scale is all about, then I highly suggest you visit the original article before we go any further along.

All set? Goody. Let’s begin.

The Breaker Upperers is a New Zealand comedy recently obtained for streaming rights for Netflix, focusing on the adventures of best friends Mel (Madeleine Sami) and Jen (Jackie van Beek) running their business together. The catch? The business in question is a bit, um, odd – Mel and Jen run an agency that helps break up couples when one of the partners doesn’t want to face the other person. While this service is a bit ethically questionable, the two besties have a good thing going – until some unforeseen complications and consequences start throwing wrenches in the system.

WHAT I LIKED:

Well, first and foremost, the word “bi” is used freely and without baggage by Mel throughout the movie. There’s a particularly lovely scene between Mel and Jen sitting on her car hood. It’s a cheeky scene that establishes not only Mel’s varied and guiltless past, but it tidily dismisses the idea this film will shoehorn a romance between the two female leads. And Mel ends up being a lovable lead, full of dimensions and fears who makes mistakes but gets full agency over her life – not something we see with bis in movies nearly enough.

I also love how no one has any problem with her sexuality when she brings it up. How novel and rare that is, even in modern cinema. Yes, there’s definitely more positive bi visibility going on in television these days. That is fabulous, but it’s still rarely seen on film – even in indie darlings like this one. What’s more, Mel’s queerness is never her central conflict – it’s treated more like old news, but also no one rolls their eyes when she mentions her queerness. How refreshing to see this level of acceptance – especially in a comedy, when non-straight sexuality is often the butt of the joke.

But even beyond bi+ representation, there is so much to love about The Breaker Upperers. It’s such a scarce thing to see a true female friendship on screen – especially when any monstrous catfights aren’t the central fulcrum of the plot. It’s clear these women adore each other, even if they don’t always agree with how the other person approaches life. Most of the characters are people of color, many of them over the age of thirty. Despite the odd nature of their business, the overall tone of the comedy is sunny and has little meanness. Plus that comedy is both highbrow and lowbrow at points, so I feel like there is something here for everyone. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would – mostly because I couldn’t predict how a scene would go. That’s not an easy thing to do with someone who is a comedy writer.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

Honestly, at first it took me some time to figure out what to kick up dust about in the movie, until I got about halfway through and realized the character Jordan (James Rolleston) is a teenager. The age gap between him (17) and Mel (36), while legal in New Zealand, made me uncomfortable. I didn’t notice it at first because the actor playing Jordan seems substantially older than 17. I am reminded of the controversy with Call Me By Your Name with the casting of Armie Hammer as a 24-year-old who was more physically imposing than his scene partner, Timothée Chalamet. I generally don’t have as many problems with age discrepancies in movies as long as the characters are fully consenting adults. But Jordan is, by all accounts, a moron. Mel seriously taking up with him seems irresponsible at best and manipulative at worst. And I know this comes across as judgmental, but getting pregnant by him seems foolish at her age – not about getting pregnant, but not using protection with this type of relationship and her age and experience.

THE RATING:

All that said, I thought this was a hysterical and ultimately heartwarming flick. We didn’t get to see a bi woman in a same-sex relationship, but we do get to watch Mel have a rich life with a happy ending. All in all, it’s a fun, goofy comedy with a lovable bi at the epicenter of the narrative. That’s something worth putting high on our neverending queues.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.