Director: Jim Archer
Writers: David Earl, Chris Hayward
Stars: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey
Drawn from the award-winning short film of the same name, Jim Archer’s offbeat comedy Brian and Charles 2022 is born of love and friendship. A sweet story about a lonely inventor, the film leans into seriousness and genuineness. Whatever its troubles reaching the already short 90-minute runtime, it’s a delight: a happy-go-lucky story about a family found, or in this case, one created.
Filmed in mockumentary style, Brian and Charles follows Brian, a bearded, wrapped-up man who lives in a Welsh town and scours the countryside for scrap parts to build his inventions. From pineapple bags to egg belts, he invents whatever he wants, regardless of utility. Bored and without company, as evidenced by the dart board of him Brian vs. Brian collects a pile of scrap metal to build a crude robot using a washing machine for the squarer torso seen in the film. After a few failed attempts, the robot suddenly comes back to life, stealing cabbages and becoming sentient without much fuss.
The square robot chooses the name Charles Petrescu after Brian suggests others he doesn’t like. At first, he tells Charles “I’m your friend,” a simple sentiment that forms Brian and Charles’s entire thesis, this easy choice to become friends for life despite one man’s inability to turn off his glowing blue eye. . Yet Charles is an emotional centerpiece, unable to comprehend how far the outside world extends, that he can’t walk to Honolulu, and that cabbages don’t make a balanced diet.
Archer’s first feature film is full of sweetness bordering on saccharin. The villain of his comes in the form of Eddie, a local bully reminiscent of a high school student who pushes the nerdy kid for lunch money. The film takes on a pseudo-secondary aura, with the town gathering for a large bonfire on a stage not unlike the usual dance at the end of the film. It becomes cotton candy galore, the stakes rarely outweighing comic concern.
Giving Brian a love interest in Hazel extends the runtime, adding an extra layer of playfulness to an already enjoyable little story. Hazel brings an outside perspective into the world of Brian and Charles, even if she’s not very popular herself. Like them, and like most people in the film, she is good-natured, open to weirdness, open to awkwardness, and more quiet than loud. Earl’s chemistry is present with both Brealey and Hayward through conversations that contain a level of awkwardness, simply because no one knows exactly what to say or do. The dryness of the humor fits the relationship between Brian and Charles, between Earl and Hayward, two friends who couldn’t seem happier while making the film.
Brian and Charles movie reviews didn’t need to be a feature. It could have continued to exist peacefully and happily as a short, and its material stretches the story as thin as a sheet in this extended form. But the charm and fun of his story outweigh a thin narrative. The Flat Stanley Project came to mind: a way to give kids a travel companion, a reason to learn about new people, new places, and the vastness of the rest of the world. Charles becomes Brian’s not-so-flat friend: someone to run errands with, to play darts against, to become a lens through which to see greatness beyond his cabin. It’s easy to enjoy such a serious portrait of an unconventional friendship, even if one of the friends only eats cabbage. They can still dance together, which seems more important, more resonant than anything else.