Brian And Charles Review: Friendship Blossoms In A Lo-Fi Frankenstein Riff With A Kooky Robot [Sundance 2022]

Take the dry comedy of Aardman Animation. Bring it into live-action. Throw in a reclusive, quirky inventor and his makeshift robot made out of junk. Mix for roughly 90 minutes, and you've got "Brian and Charles," an endlessly charming, funny, and delightfully lo-fi British comedy from director Jim Archer, adapted from his own short film of the same name.

"Brian and Charles" begins with a faux documentary format that introduces us to Brian Gittins (David Earl), a reclusive, oddball inventor who creates seemingly unnecessary items such as shoes with trawler nets on the back, a belt for holding eggs, and a flying cuckoo clock that he attempts to launch on a bicycle. But Brian's greatest invention is yet to come after he picks up a mannequin head, some metal scraps, and a few other odds and ends. Brian sets off to build a robot, but despite all his tinkering, like many of his inventions, he can't get it to work quite right. That is, until a stormy night suddenly finds the 7-foot tall boxy bloke wandering around Brian's homestead, seemingly eating cabbage. Needless to say, it's quite a hilarious sight.

Though the robot is initially apprehensive of Brian and his surroundings, he's able to be coaxed into the house to sit on the couch. After Brian falls asleep, he wakes up to find Brian walking around the house, having learned a thing or two by reading various do-it-yourself books and guides. Speaking with the voice of what sounds like an exceedingly polite and deadpan Speak N Spell (a voice provided by co-writer Chris Hayward), the robot takes a liking to the name Charles and the surname Petrescu, inspired by a nearby book. From there, Charles Petrescu is off to the races, quickly learning about the world he finds himself in, asking plenty of questions in the process.

A Big World

The mockumentary format that finds Brian talking to the camera is quickly abandoned for a more fly-on-the-wall approach. Honestly, the movie could have probably tossed out the documentary style altogether, as it only seems to exist in order to easily introduce Brian as a character. But it's a minor quibble for such an endearing comedy. Mockumentary format or not, the cinematography beautifully captures the sleepy, foggy, and perpetually wet countryside.

Charles begins as a naive robot who relies on Brian to show him the ways of the world. Unfortunately, Brian is a bit of an awkward fella, only going in to town every so often when he needs supplies or to work as a handyman for the locals, and that means Charles is often relegated to staying at the house where there isn't much for him to do. Occasionally, Brian runs into Hazel (Louise Brealey), a kind young woman who clearly has a fondness for him, if he would only have the nerve to carry on more of a conversation with her. But Brian also has run-ins with Eddie, a fellow junker in the village who is an absolute jerk, bullying pretty much anyone he encounters. If he were ever to see what Brian has created in Charles, it would be bad news. So it's a bit of a problem when Charles starts to become more aware of the world outside of Brian's house. He's especially infatuated with Honolulu after seeing a travel commercial on the television, prompting him to make several escape attempts after Brian continuously tries to keep him inside the house. 

As with any "Frankenstein" riff, there comes a time with the creation turns against its creator. In the case of Charles Petrescu, he's not unlike a rebellious teen, playing loud rock music and talking back sarcastically as he becomes increasingly frustrated with being kept locked away in Brian's house. And it's that insubordinate attitude that's going to land him in a spot of trouble, making for an inevitable conflict that takes our two friends on a transformative journey with a tinge of sadness alongside the laughter.

Simple and Delightful

Watching Charles Petrescu's evolution is a hilarious affair. His bickering with Brian is made so much more funny by the dated, emotionless digital voice. Plus, you can't help but chuckle every time Charles has to wobble around hurriedly when trying to make an escape or stomping up to his room in a huff when Brian won't let him go into town for some gum, which is clearly a ruse to make a getaway. Brian is simultaneously gruff but loving, only wanting to keep him out of harm's way. Earl and Hayward both co-wrote the script in addition to playing the two leads, and there's an adorable, offbeat chemistry between them that you can't help but love.

"Brian and Charles" follows a path not unlike "The Iron Giant" and "E.T. The Extra-Terrestial," though the plot doesn't come with the same sense of urgency or high stakes. Instead, it's the characters that you fall in love with, hoping for nothing but the best for all of them. Charles becomes Brian's wobbly, unwieldy kid, and they both learn something about each other and the world around them in the process. It's nothing innovative in the storytelling department, but that simplicity makes it that much more appealing, even if the movie could maybe use some bigger laughs here and there. But it gets bonus points for being the kind of movie that the whole family can watch without sacrificing comedic quality. It's like Taika Waititi's "Frankenstein" by way of "Wallace and Gromit," and it even has a lively little electronic-infused score from "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" composer Daniel Pemberton. If that doesn't sound like a delight, I don't know what to tell you.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10