Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
One of the Sweetest and Most Kind-Hearted Films of the Year
In Brian and Charles, Brian (David Earl) is an inventor that lives in a cottage out in the country by himself. Primarily inventing the likes of a pine cone bag, an egg belt, and a flying cuckoo clock, Brian’s loneliness gets the best of him as he tries to build a robot friend. After a few false attempts, the robot comes to life. The cabbage eating, Honolulu obsessed, and surprisingly impressive dancing robot goes by the name of Charles Petrescu (Chris Hayward).
David Earl should be a familiar name because of his supporting roles on the Ricky Gervais lead TV-series Derek and After Life, which are both streaming on Netflix. Brian and Charles has a similar sense of comedy as those two series; dry and subtle while being filmed like a faux documentary. Brian leads the camera crew around as he showcases his inventing pantry and how Charles came to be. Brian has this kind of awkward charm where he seems to not really fit into society at all, but desperately wants someone to spend time with.
The British comedy is kind of like a more family friendly version of Lars and the Real Girl. The difference is that Charles actually speaks, learns, and interacts with the world around him. When Charles is first created, he’s basically an infant and is easily impressed. By the middle of the film, Charles is a teenager whose curiosity has gotten the best of him.
The Purest and Most Wholesome of British Comedies
Charles is bored with his home and his everyday routine while struggling with the urge to disobey Brian’s commands in order to see what else the world has to offer. By the end of the film, Charles has become an adult. He’s grown to appreciate where he’s come from, but intends to explore everything he hasn’t seen in order to fully mature on his own. Brian and Charles is a brisk 90-minute documentation of Charles' life from a child to adulthood.
Brian also blossoms into a better person over the course of the film. Brian is a loner when the film begins as he’s afraid to share how he feels about Hazel (Louise Brealey) and lets the town bully, Eddie (Jamie Michie), walk all over him without ever fighting back. Brian also seems to be used to failure with his inventions. He’s incredibly imaginative and spends all of his time building the contraptions his mind concocts, but the film implies that they rarely ever work. Brian makes the analogy about another door opening once the current open door closes (and that life is a never ending loop of doors opening and closing). And while reluctant at first, Charles helps Brian open those doors Brian has kept closed for so long.
Charles is made of various things found on the side of the road, at the dump, or of whatever Brian has lying around his shed. He has a mannequin head, different colored dish gloves for hands, and a washing machine for a stomach; Charles is basically Frankenstein’s monster if he were composed of trash. The fact that he is functional is part of his charm. With shades of Short Circuit, Brian and Charles is a film with a story that feels familiar but relies on its subtlety to feel unique. The film is at its best when it’s just David Earl and Chris Hayward pretending to be a creator and his wide-eyed invention. Charles has this innocence about him where his enthusiasm over the simplest things is not only contagious for Brian, but the audience as well.
Familiarities aside, Brian and Charles is written in a way that tugs at your heartstrings and reminds us that we should be judged by what’s inside even if our insides are a plethora of tangled cords and flashing lights and not a beating, blood pumping heart. The film touches on loneliness and bullying that is easy to sympathize with if you’ve ever suffered from either. Brian and Charles may revolve around a creative nerd as he succumbs to a violent bully, but the film is so pure and so wholesome that a little beach fanatic robot created in a cow shed makes you feel more human than any other film has in a long, long time.
© 2022 Chris Sawin