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Brian and Charles [2022]: ‘Sundance’ Review – A feel-good, uber-cute robot comedy about companionship

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In a strange new addition to the ‘using-a-robot-for-personal-purposes’ cinematic universe, Brian and Charles might be too sweet to really matter. Similar to the 2012 Sundance-winning ‘Robot and Frank’, or the most recent Apple TV film ‘Finch,’ robots have only become sweeter with the passing year. Remember Will Smith starring ‘I Robot’? or the fascinating ‘Ex Machina’? Yeah, we aren’t getting evil with technology anymore.




Jim Archer’s mockumentary-style ‘Brian and Charles’ does have a cinematic universe of its own though. It was born back in 2017 as a short film about Brian Gittis, a lonesome, depressed, and isolated man who one day decides to build a robot out of scraps. The film had a slight charm and a wonderfully understated look at friendship and loneliness.

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Then in 2019, we saw the resurgence of the character Brian Gittis in Ricky Gervais’ winning Netflix comedy series After Life. This was a slightly uptight and obnoxious version of the character. Maybe because something might have happened to his robot-roommate and shifting to the city life with all the junk that he holds dear, had an impact on him. Anway, we are getting ahead of ourselves so let’s get back.

Archer’s film must be set in between those years, or maybe it just extends the short into a feature, but we begin with Gittis’ character working in his messy workshop, trying to build new things each day. He is followed by a documentary crew (we don’t know what he has achieved to have people follow him) that shoots his entire life on camera. Some of his infamous inventions include a pine-cone handbag (which is basically pine cones stitched to a handbag) and a sort of waist slinger that can be used to keep eggs.

Brian and Charles
A still from Brian and Charles by Jim Archer, an official selection of the World Cinema: Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

That is until he stumbles onto a mannequin head and decides to make a robot out of it. 72 hours later and made up of a washing machine as its body, a robot is invented. After a few reluctant attempts, Brian names him Charles and the AI is ecstatic about it. Initially, the two of them bond together over their shared love for ‘cabbages’ but it seems that Charles soon develops a conscious of his own. Charles, who is a little cocky and stubborn, is almost like a little child in the beginning. He is dependent on Brian and then later discovers that there’s a whole new world outside the boundaries of Brian’s home.




The conflict in the film comes from the fact that Brian wants to keep Charles to himself. He is afraid that letting him go outside would trigger the local bullies (including a family of snobbish assholes who are planning for a village bonfire), compromising their relationship together.

Now coming to the film itself, there are two focal points that it deals with. While the short film was about companionship and the frustration of dependency, the feature-length film deals with loneliness and insecurities. It also, in some way, deals with a slight coming-of-age arc when it comes to Charles. He is shown as a child who is constantly discovering new things, and how Brian slowly but gradually understands his need to break free.

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While I did like a lot about the film, I think it does lag somewhere in the second act. The tight and focused vision that Archer exhibited in his short film is frankly absent. It almost feels like he introduces a love interest just to fill in the gaps that would make it into feature-length. I mean, both David Earl and Louise Brealey make for an endearing couple formed due to their outcast nature; but it doesn’t really help with the film’s central theme all that much. 

A lot of heavy lifting here is done by Chris Hayward who voices Charles. As an over-excited, super-intelligent robot who is just a big kid in personality, Hayward’s voice really fills your heart up with happiness. It also helps that co-writer David Earl and Chris Hayward pepper it with their trademark awkward humor with pauses that let you enjoy the taste of Welsh’s countryside. For a 90 minutes long film, Brian and Charles feels a bit predictable. But the big smile on your face never sheds off, even when the credits start to roll.

BRIAN AND CHARLES SCREENED AT THE 2022 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

Brian and Charles Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Brian and Charles Cast – David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, Jamie Michie, Lynn Hunter, Lowri Izzard, Mari Izzard, Cara Chase

 

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