Love and Robot, by Bob Connally

20 Jun

Brian (David Earl) is a man living alone in the Welsh countryside, spending his days and nights creating things such as pine cone bags and a flying bicycle clock. His inventions have varying degrees of success but as he tells the small documentary crew who’s following him, “When one door closes, another door opens.” Brian is trying his best to remain positive and to move forward but it’s getting increasingly difficult for him. When he finds a mannequin head among a pile of scraps he gets his grandest idea yet. Using a washing machine for a body, Brian constructs a robot. To Brian’s incredible surprise, his robot not only works, he’s able to read and communicate, despite being comprised of items Brian found in his cow shed. When Brian suggests a few names to his new creation, the robot perks up at the sound of Charles and with that, a friendship is born.

Written by Earl and Chris Hayward (who voices Charles), Brian and Charles is directed by Jim Archer making his feature film debut. Based on characters that Earl and Hayward originally created in a standup act and whom they played in a short film of the same name, this is a highly successful expansion of the premise to a 90 minute movie. The filmmakers are also smart in the ways they choose to expand it, focusing on characters rather than trying to make the events big. The joys of the film are in the moments in which Brian and Charles bond, boiling cabbages or Charles first getting the urge to dance. Their dynamic is a mixture of father and son, man and dog, and simply being best friends. 

Brian’s happiness at having Charles in his life now is childlike. He never questions how Charles came to life or what the greater implications of that might be. Brian just knows that Charles is his family and that’s all that matters. Also childlike is Brian’s fear of the village bully, Eddie (Jamie Michie), who Brian explains once stole one of his lawn gnomes. Brian’s sadness when explaining this, while funny, is genuinely heartbreaking. Eddie has spent his life intimidating not only Brian, but everyone in town, even the old lady who runs the convenience store. Understandably, Brian doesn’t want Eddie to know about Charles. Meanwhile, Charles is encouraging Brian to take a walk with Hazel (Louise Brealey, Sherlock), a shy woman Brian has a crush on.

Charles, for his part, deserves to be included among the most lovable robots in cinema, alongside R2-D2 and Baymax. He is fascinated by the larger world, wanting desperately to go on adventures. He’s particularly enchanted by Hawaii, a place he sees on a television documentary he watches with Brian. Never once does he feel uncomfortable in his own uniquely shaped body. He’s happy as he can be with himself and just wants to explore.

Brian and Charles is warm and delightful but also an effecting examination of loneliness and friendship. The screenplay and Archer’s direction blend these elements together terrifically and the performances bring us in to this little village these characters live in, which seems to be a world unto itself. The childlike nature of Brian extends to the film itself. While Brian and Charles is unrated, it honestly might have gotten a G. I can’t recall so much as a mild swear word, even from bully Eddie as he’s pushing Brian around. Still, Eddie is legitimately infuriating thanks in large part to Michie’s great performance. His awful teenage daughters are clearly following in his footsteps, mocking Brian whenever they see him. We root for Brian to stand up for himself but hope he won’t stoop to Eddie’s level.

This is an absolutely wonderful movie where everything works (except some of Brian’s inventions). Brian and Charles is brimming with both heart and imagination, it’s laugh out loud funny, and it will leave you with a huge smile on your face. We don’t get a lot of films like this one so it’s important to support them when we do. Brian and Charles is in theaters now.

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