Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek in The Breaker Upperers. Supplied by Madman Films.
Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek in The Breaker Upperers. Supplied by Madman Films. Miss Piki Films Limited

The Breaker Upperers shows Kiwis up for a laugh

In the 1990s Australians loved to laugh at themselves, with movie classics like The Castle and Priscilla packing people into cinemas.

But somewhere along the line, we've been overtaken by the Kiwis.

Today it is comedies from New Zealand that are making Australians laugh, proven by the success of movies such as Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in The Shadows, all the work of writer/director Taika Waititi.

The popular filmmaker is executive producer on The Breaker Upperers, which is the brainchild of two women who wrote, starred in and directed the comedy. Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami (pictured above) have both worked with Waititi in the past, and knew that having his name on the credits would get attention.

"Taika is a very good friend of ours, and he was helpful in two ways,” Jackie, who is best known to Australian audiences as Gloria from 800 Words, says. "One in that he helped us in his role as part of the creative team, and two in that he has a very devoted fan base, and we knew more people would see our movie because of him.”

The popularity of Kiwi comedies has grown all over the world, and it represents what Jackie and Madeleine believe is a shift in the way New Zealanders see themselves.

"A lot of people have asked us about the question 'Has Australia lost the ability to laugh at themselves?' and I find that really sad to be honest,” Madeleine says. "Muriel's Wedding, The Castle, The Comedy Company ... those were the films and TV shows that made us in New Zealand think 'Wow the Aussies really have their s--- together. Look at them sending themselves up'. I found that really inspiring.

"For many years New Zealand filmmakers only got funding for intense brooding dramas, and recently the motivation has been to get more comedy out there.”

Jackie agrees, adding: "I think there definitely is an appetite for Kiwi humour, at the moment now more than ever, and that's because not only what Taika has done, but also with Flight of the Conchords, Rhys Darby, plus a number of Kiwi comics have been putting their humour on the international stage. We know in places like America there is a demand for it. They are curious about these weird people with strange accents. We felt at the world premiere in Texas that there was an understanding of our humour.

"Kiwis in the past few years have embraced our own ridiculous kind of nature, more and more, and to be honest, we are celebrating it. We are becoming more comfortable with ourselves as a culture, and I love seeing that on the screen - that's being the kind of awkward, reserved, mumbling idiots that we are.”

They were encouraged to take on the role of directors by friends in the industry, and it meant they would have to put their 20-year friendship on the line.

"We knew that both of us had to direct it, as it had to be both or not at all,” Jackie says. "We made a pact in the beginning, so it was good to say that out loud.”

Madeleine added: "It was fun; the whole process was quite ridiculous. Plus the more tired we got the stupider and stupider things became. At one point we were in a car shoving donuts into each other's mouths. We had a great time, but I felt sorry for the rest of the crew.

"Jackie and I are emotionally upfront with each other. It was stressful at times, but we had each other to bounce off. Right now we're just enjoying the ride, man.”

The Breaker Upperers is in cinemas now.

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