Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Brian and Charles: Welsh Robotics

After years of futility, Brian has finally invented something that works: an eco-friendly robot. It runs on cabbages (everyone knows electricity mostly comes from coal, right?). Somehow, he really cracked the artificial intelligence, because it largely taught itself to talk by reading the dictionary. The rest of the maturation process will take more time in Jim Archer’s Brian and Charles, which opens Friday in New York.

When we first meet Brian, he is an affable fellow, but he tries too hard to be chipper, to cover for his loneliness. We see several of his precious DIY inventions, none of which has any prayer of working. His eccentric-looking robot, Charles Petrescu, appears to be more of the same, but somehow, after a little rattling about, he comes alive, like Frosty after the first snow.

Of course, Brian is delighted to finally have company. However, he tries his best to keep Petrescu out of sight, because he justifiably fears the Welsh village’s bullying family of thugs will target his creation. Eventually, the equally shy Hazel meets Petrescu, who duly impresses her. That in turn builds Brian’s confidence, to the point he can actually pursue a relationship with her. However, Petrescu’s restlessness soon leads to rebelliousness.

Brian and Charles feels almost toxically cute and quirky, but it develops some substance and soul during its second half. Petrescu does a lot of goofy robot-shtick, but Brian’s growth is the arc that really lands. This is a story of empowerment, as well as the obvious surrogate parenting analog.

As Brian, David Earl really humanizes the film and wins the audience over with his shaggy dog charm. He is easy to identify with and he gives us hope. He also forges some genuinely endearing chemistry Louise Brealey, nicely playing his earnest love interest, Hazel. Chris Hayward develops some amusing robotic body language, but a little of his Jim-Broadbent-in-a-state-of-arrested-development persona goes a long way.

It might sound grinchy to be annoyed by the childlike Petrescu, but the whole point of the film is how Brian deals with his acting out and balances his protective impulses with his robot’s need for freedom to learn and explore. Archer and Earl both do nice work exploring that process. It is not nearly as thoughtful as Jake Scheier’s
Robot & Frank (another film about robotic companionship), but it has a good heart. Recommended for fans of robot movies and rural UK comedies, Brian and Charles opens Friday (6/17) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.