If you could see how your relationship would end, would you even bother starting it? That’s the premise of Brakes, Mercedes Grower‘s directorial debut, in which she stars as half of one of the couples we follow around London in this dark comedy.
Featuring an eclectic mix of British talent (Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt, Julia Davis, Martin Hancock to name a few), the cast improvise their way through each separate relationship. The married couple bored of each other; the barely-started splitting after a couple of dates; an alcoholic Frankenstein and his bride; the infatuated and his not-so-keen married lover.
Grower features as heavily pregnant Layla, desperate to get boyfriend Daniel (Fielding) to pay her some attention, whilst trying to convince him she’s not interested in one of their mutual friends. Shot on a snowy day in Central London, the pair (Fielding in tiny, green shorts and bare legs – perfect snow-day attire) take refuge in a public toilet, where Daniel slams the door in Layla’s face, asking her to knock properly if she has any respect for him. Infuriating.
Beginning at the end, we’re then shown Part One, where each couple meets for the first time. Reconnecting after years apart; a cheeky drunken snog on a night out; in a bar, the perfect hideout for alcoholics; in Barcelona, waking up unsure of what went on the night before, with infatuated bedfellow serenading awake his fling. Whether it’s been mere weeks, or years down the line, we see how each relationship sparks at the start, trundling to a halt, until the brakes are put on.
What makes Brakes so ‘real’ is its combination of real-life, in-the-moment conversation, and messy handheld camerawork. Close-ups of slight changes in facial expression, an awkward pause in a tense duologue, taking place in locations across the City; every moment is recognisable, relatable, almost bittersweet. Human relationships are the most talked about, sung about, written about, filmed, and analysed part of life, and we’ve all ‘been there’, whether you’ve been the dumped or dumpee. Whatever your experience, there’s something in the narrative for everyone, including lots of dark humour, emotion, and – at times – relief and reflection that you’re not the only person who’s gone through a similar heartbreak.
Darkly funny, moving, heartwarming, Brakes is a triumph for a directorial debut. Mercedes and her team should be proud.
Brakes opens in UK cinemas on 24 November.
Find a screening: brakesfilm.com/cinema-listings