REVIEW: Brian and Charles [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG | Runtime: 90 minutes
    Release Date: June 17th, 2022 (USA) / July 8th, 2022 (UK)
    Studio: Focus Features
    Director(s): Jim Archer
    Writer(s): David Earl & Chris Hayward

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Director Jim Archer and screenwriters David Earl and Chris Hayward created a dryly comic odd couple five years ago in Brian (Earl) and his robot Charles (Hayward). Building upon their twelve-minute introduction seemed natural as the reasons for their friendship (Brian’s wintry isolation at his cottage miles from everywhere put a dark, depressive shadow across his life) provided ample opportunity to mine the emotional and psychological intricacies we have as a species when it comes to relationships. Charles becomes a sort of hybrid pet and child to love in the abstract and hate in reality once Brian’s wants inevitably stop being met by his creation’s growing needs. It leads them to a dramatically impulsive crossroads reminding us about how compromise is necessary for happiness because togetherness beats loneliness.

My assumption was that the feature length expansion Brian and Charles would follow suit, using the events of the short and then continuing forward from there. The filmmakers had other ideas, though. They decided to go back to the well and create a whole new spin on the conceit thanks to the added time allowing for added complexity. Brian may still be lonely and depressed, but he isn’t quite the hermit we saw before. He ventures into town, befriends the locals (Cara Chase‘s shopkeeper June and Louise Brealey‘s cutely awkward Hazel), and even has some enemies by way of their community’s family of bullies (headed by Jamie Michie‘s Eddie and Nina Sosanya‘s Pam). Building Charles is thus less about need than challenge. Inspiration strikes and he enthusiastically complies.

Brian is an amateur inventor, after all. It’s both part of his charm and his eccentricity (the townsfolk are always quizzically peering at whatever new bit of nonsense he has trailing behind him). Charles is an undertaking unlike the rest, though. He isn’t as much a useless tool or inspired bit of uninspiring claptrap as he is a living thing with thoughts and ambitions. Where Brian must only press a button to get his electric scrubber twirling around, asking Charles to do a chore carries with it the uncertainty of whether that chore gets done. Maybe Charles wants to do something else. Maybe he wants to explore beyond the property line, meet other friends, or travel to Hawaii. Rather than need education this time around, he craves experiences.

It’s easier said than done, however, when you’re talking about a crudely made machine with a clothes washer as a chest and a glowing blue eyeball popping out of his mannequin head. Not only must Brian worry about Charles being ridiculed for being different, but there’s also the real chance that Eddie decides to steal him like the numerous things his family has stolen over the years from all their neighbors. The “pet period” is thus very brief here (and funny with Charles bouncing around the first time Brian comes home after a short spell away). Most of the time is spent on the “rebellious teen phase” with Charles talking back and acting out. Brian can only watch him so closely before the perilous world attacks.

The result focuses more crucially on Brian’s evolution from a known pushover to someone with something to protect. Because just as Charles arrives to give him someone to care about, so too does a blossoming romance with Hazel (sparked in large part by Charles overtly and matter-of-factly pushing his friend to ask her out because he’s too analytical to care about the fears and anxieties to which Brian often succumbs). This man who had nothing but himself (and the never explained film crew, following him around even before he absent-mindedly invents a sentient being) to keep him company suddenly has a family to fill his heart and help him stand-up against those who wish to destroy it. This Brian doesn’t push Charles away. He fights to keep him.

It’s a rousing bit of “love conquers all” machinations as Brian realizes what matters most to him and how providing happiness to another is one of the best ways to find happiness himself. The comedy is just as aridly stilted as the short with Earl embodying his character’s yearning to be funny no matter how weird his attempts prove. The rest of the cast is just as game whether Brealey matching his shy idiosyncrasies or Michie reveling in big bully energy that ensures his aggression always comes off as childishness better suited for the playground than a street fight. This stunted nature works wonders in context with Hayward’s Charles because this is his adolescence. To have such starkly simple examples of good versus bad helps him to grow.

They also teach him how to push boundaries—a trait that supplies the film’s best bits. I love when Charles starts cultivating a personality beyond just being a lapdog following orders. When he asks if he can leave the house only for Brian to say “No” like a broken record, the final “Well I guess I’ll just stay here and rust then” made me laugh out loud. Archer and company know the tone they’re going for and they pull it off with success. It won’t be for everyone (the pacing and dryness even wore on my patience despite my enjoyment), but it should delight those willing to embrace its many quirks. With the lovable Brian and Charles at the center, it’s easy to want to try.

[1] (L to R) David Earl stars as Brian and Chris Hayward stars as Charles in director Jim Archer’s BRIAN AND CHARLES, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features
[2] (L to R) David Earl stars as Brian and Chris Hayward stars as Charles in director Jim Archer’s BRIAN AND CHARLES, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features
[3] (L to R) David Earl stars as Brian and Louise Brealey as Hazel in director Jim Archer’s BRIAN AND CHARLES, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

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