The Breaker Upperers is a very fresh, raunchy, female driven comedy with lots of laughs. There’s a funny sex scene featuring Jemaine Clement and an even funnier cocaine-in-the-bathroom scene.
But the best joke occurs in the family dinner scene. It’s a joke that I don’t think I have ever heard in a movie. A joke that acknowledges what it’s like to be mixed race.
The heroines Jen (Jackie van Beek) and Mel (Madeleine Sami) are sitting with Jen’s family, eating, talking. Mel is half Indian and half Irish (and clearly born and bred in New Zealand) so, of course, in an effort to make her feel included, the topic of Indian food comes up. It’s one of those “You’re Indian… I love samosas” kind of moments that’s instantly recognisable to those of us who’ve spent any significant time in the company of well-meaning but awkward white people.
This whole dynamic forces Mel to make a joke she’s clearly made a million times before: “I’m a curry potato,” she says.
And everyone laughs and laughs.
Then the camera cuts away from Mel and we hear her off screen: “Yeah, white people love that joke.”
Boom. Best moment of the movie.
Even under perfectly innocent, curious circumstances, people of colour have to justify their existence (“I don’t understand – you’re Indian AND Irish? I mean, what?!”). Mel gives the white people what they want – to feel comfortable with how “exotic” she seems. That by itself could be a joke in a John Hughes movie. But then she comments on it. Calls it out. That’s what’s new and it’s the kind of sensibility that permeates this effortlessly, authentically diverse movie.
This episode, as Fiona Williams and I discovered while interviewing van Beek and Sami on The Playlist, comes from real life…
Listen to the whole conversation here:
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Watch 'The Breaker Upperers'
Saturday 7 August, 11:20pm on SBS / Now streaming at SBS On Demand
New Zealand, 2018
Director: Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek
Starring: Jackie van Beek, Madeleine Sami, Celia Pacquola, James Rolleston