Brian and Charles

Seeing Brian and Charles was a strange experience. For the first fifteen minutes, I didn't like the movie at all. It seemed to be a case of forced quirkiness – the kind of thing devised by screenwriters impressed with their own perceived cleverness. Then the “Charles” half of the title made his arrival and suddenly the film became hilarious. Yes, it does lean heavily on the quirk factor. Once Charles enters the story, though, an underlying sweetness makes everything go down a lot smoother.

Brian (David Earl) is a sad-sack inventor whose creations are either inane and/or useless. One of them is a flying cuckoo clock. Who would need a flying cuckoo clock and for what purpose would they need it? Those are questions that would never occur to the clueless Brian. (The thing burns up before taking off anyway.) Most people in his small Welsh town view these inventions with incredulity, except for Hazel (Louise Brealey), the woman Brian has a crush on but is too timid to ask out. Because of the frankly dumb gizmos we see him making at the start, it comes as a total surprise when he makes a homemade robot that actually works. “Charles Petrescu,” as he is dubbed, is made out of a washing machine, a mannequin head, and who knows what else. He resembles Larry David with a square body and a light in one eye.

Charles (played by Chris Hayward in what has to be the bulkiest movie costume ever) speaks in a digitized voice and has a childlike quality. He wants to learn about the world. Specifically, he wants to go to Honolulu after seeing it on TV, and even begins walking there until Brian informs him that it's impossible to walk to Honolulu from Wales. Despite Brian's best efforts to hide Charles from the townsfolk, his longtime bully Eddie (Jamie Michie) gets a look at the robot, taking it as his mission to destroy what he views as an abomination.

Brian and Charles is one of those fundamentally odd movies, like Swiss Army Man or The Lighthouse. You either go with stuff like this or you don't. I went with it. There's little plot, and what's here is predictable. Nevertheless, the whole thing is charming and funny in its oddness. Charles is the key. His appearance alone is humorous – the shirts stretched over his washing machine midsection, the dead look in his eyes, the balding college professor hair style, and so on. The very sight of this character is enough to induce laughter.

Then there's his artificial voice, which somehow makes every sentence he utters hysterical. Charles is prone to bizarre statements, such as saying “Yumsville!” when offered his favorite meal of cabbage. When he wants to dance, which is often, he exclaims, “Clever boy dance party!” Brian and Charles is likely to become an endlessly quotable cult favorite, thanks to the kooky robotic delivery of his dialogue. In fact, I'm giggling as I write this review, just recalling Charles' lines.

For reasons unknown, the movie is done in faux-documentary style, with Brian intermittently addressing the camera. The gimmick doesn't work, partially because there's no logical reason for a camera crew to be filming Brian and partially because director Jim Archer isn't consistent with it. Parts of Brian and Charles seem to forget that it's ostensibly a doc. Despite that unnecessary format, the film builds a touching friendship between its titular characters. Brian literally makes a buddy for himself, changing his life for the better in the process. Brian and Charles is thin as a sheet of paper, but an emotional core and the uproarious Charles Petrescu make it enjoyable for connoisseurs of cheerfully wacky comedy.


out of four

Brian and Charles is rated PG language, mild violence, and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.