Tribeca Film Festival 2022
Brian and Charles Review
Brian and Charles gets off to something of a slow start, but once it gets going it’s a frequently hilarious and sometimes touching tale of a man and his robotic friend.
Most stories about sentient robots are depressing and a sign of dystopian creep — or, alternately, some version of Frankenstein’s monster — but this one is much more cheerful. In fact, it’s the kind of movie that regularly gets dismissed as “twee,” — far from a rarity, especially when it comes to moves that come out of Sundance — although I almost always enjoy such films.
Directed by Jim Archer and adapted from an earlier short film of the same name, the Brian and Charles duo actually got its start, of all things, as a stand-up comedy act. What they’ve made is a film that’s utterly uninterested in the sort of heady sci-fi concepts that usually show up in movies about robots, artificial intelligence, and sentience. But instead, it’s a mostly earnest comedy about friendship.
Brian and Charles debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the Audience Favourite award. The film, at least in its opening section, is presented in the style of a mockumentary, that sort of recalls the British version of The Office.
David Earl, who also co-wrote the film, plays Brian, a Welshman, and crackpot inventor. He’s introduced as a lonely guy, sitting in his cluttered garage — he calls it “my infamous inventions pantry” — lamenting his circumstances.
Despite a nearly completely unblemished record of his inventions never quite working out — there isn’t much demand in Northern Wales, it turns out, for tall cuckoo clocks — he puts together Charles (Chris Hayward), a robot who has been programmed to know the entire dictionary, and a lightning strike brings the robot to life.
Charles is a fantastic creation. Made from a mannequin head, some type of lens for a right eye, and the body of a washing machine, he’s boxy, and facially anyway, he resembles the robot Robin Williams played in Bicentennial Man– and in one scene, where he dresses as a woman to hide out, he looks like another Williams character, Mrs. Doubtfire.
The two quickly get into adventures, while bonding over their shared love of cabbages, as Brian slowly gets up the courage to pursue a romantic prospect (Louise Brealey). Sometimes they clash when Charles develops the desire to explore the world, beyond their small Welsh town. Meanwhile, the two take on the town bully (Jamie Michie), who’s out to steal the robot.
The film might not be for everyone, and some audiences just plain aren’t going to be on its odd and unique wavelength.
But I found Brian and Charles a sweet and heartwarming tale that seems to come out of nowhere.