Reviews by Joyce Glasser Brian and Charles (July 8, 2022) Cert PG, 91 min.

Brian and Charles is a heartwarming film with a strong message about loneliness, a hot topic after the revelations of Covid and quarantine. Writer-director Jim Archer’s feature film also boasts a high concept, as the buddy movie’s Charles is a robot, albeit less R2D2 than Frankenstein. Set in a Welsh farming village, the film’s thinly drawn secondary characters and implausible plot developments reveal the challenges of turning a high-concept short into a feature film, including the disappearance of the director of the fake documentary.

Brian (David Earle) is a hairy, middle-aged inventor who lives alone on a run-down farm in Wales, using a ramshackle house as his home and a barn as his overcrowded workshop. Although Brian is not a farmer, there are many cabbages around which form a mild joke in the film, as they prove useful as a means of livelihood as well as a defensive weapon.

At the start of the film, Brian babbles to an interview camera, presumably Jim Archer, about his lifestyle and gives us a tour (the design by Hannah Purdy Faughin deserves a special mention) of his workshop. His outlandish creations range from a bag covered in a pinecone to a ludicrous aircraft that apparently crashes during a demonstration, whose farce fails to lend itself to humor.

The interviewer director teaching Brian (who owns a TV and can read so should know better) about the term AI gradually fades out of the film, or so it seems. There are a number of scenes in which he could not be present, otherwise the other characters would have commented. This is for the better, because the uncomfortable device detracts from, rather than adds to, the film.

Unlike most healthy people, Brian likes the tip. Digging through one, he finds a trashed washing machine and a beautiful male mannequin head, which become the building blocks for his robot. Unsurprisingly, the robot, which looks like a giant human except for the expressionless face, bulging glass eye, and hard square on the shoulders and back that protrude through the shirt, isn’t working.

When Brian returns home from a shopping trip in the village during a storm and lightning, he senses that something is wrong. He sees sparks, lights, hears loud noises and, entering the room, realizes that a lump of various materials, which he left in the corner of the workshop, is wandering around the house. The scene is certainly reminiscent of Frankenstein, but Archer does not want to scare us.

Brian is not scared, but delighted by the success of his work, who quickly used the dictionary to learn to speak. The fact that the robot can speak and has a programmed brain is never explained. Brian claims he worked 72 hours to make Charles, which hardly seems long enough to create a cyborg.

Brian sets out to name his new companion, but he soon learns that his creation will not be named as a child who has no say in the matter. From the beginning, Charles (Chris Hayward), as they finally agree, is confident. Indeed, the film’s strength is that Charles, who initially proves to be Brian’s great companion through pillow fights and his penchant for cabbage dinners, soon becomes unwelcome as a guest whose presence becomes an inconvenience.

For a while, the film is of a kind Alone at home with a child in an adult’s body as he tries to escape the boring village routine that Brian has become accustomed to. Charles is like a child: stubborn, wayward, demanding, and eager to explore the world while remaining vulnerable and inexperienced in it.

Already considered eccentric by the condescending, friendly villagers and taunted by the film’s villain, a rancher named Eddie (Jamie Michie), Brian protects Charles and tries his best to hide his friend.

But when Charles meets the withdrawn Hazel (Louise Braley), who lives alone with her demanding mother, he becomes a matchmaker, taking the first step that self-possessed Brian never dared to take. The romance between Hazel and Brian is cute and develops organically, but when the obnoxious Eddie and his spoiled wife and daughters meet Charles, we know we’re in for big trouble.

Chris Hayward is a great place for Count Brian, a well-spoken gentleman whose accumulation of knowledge exceeds his accumulation of experience. He sees Hawaiian hula dancers on TV and minutes later he’s trudging through the swamps to Hawaii. He loves people, because he has not learned to fear them, and intuitively invites Hazel to go for a walk with them to the lake, where Brian rarely goes.

Along with Brian and Charles, Jim Archer puts himself in the company of other British directors of homegrown quirky comedies and spoofs such as Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Ben Whitley (Tourists), but without their subversive black comedy in certain genres. The absence of this element means that the film has to be very funny, its characters unique and the plot original to give it substance. Brian and Charles don’t always get it right here.

As powerful as it is, the message of loneliness — Brian doesn’t even realize he’s alone until he creates Charles — isn’t enough to keep this story standing as a feature. Hazel, who is Brian’s beloved and surprisingly skilled companion, is underdeveloped as a love interest, while Eddie isn’t stupid enough to pull off a heist to destroy Charles rather than profit financially from it.

You also wonder, since Eddie is also stealing from the local shop, why the villagers don’t report this continuous anti-social behavior to the police. Brian’s brilliant plan to defeat his rival and come to Charles’ aid may humiliate Eddie so much that he backs down, but like Vladimir Putin, you know that any successes will be temporary and the unstoppable bully will always have his revenge.

Chris Hayward excels as a cyborg in this thin, but touching comedy about loneliness and discovery.

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