“Brian and Charles” is a “bloke builds a robot” comedy that’s so cute you want to pinch its inanimate cheeks until they’re red.
A mockumentary that pays homage to British tinkering, Welsh eccentrics and the lesson Dad always taught you about how to deal with bullies, it’s a little daft, a little sweet and exceptionally twee.
Co-stars David Earl and Chris Hayward, expanding their short film of the same title, co-wrote this adorable, folksy and feel-good comedy as a star vehicle for themselves. That’s true even though Hayward spends the movie hidden under a Larry David manikin head, his upper torso tucked in a washing machine fuselage, his speech sounding like he was the high-bidder on “Who gets Stephen Hawking’s Voice Box?”
A film crew is following solitary tinkerer Brian (Earl, of Ricky Gervais’ “After Life”) around his cluttered, isolated Plaxgreen Cottage as he shows off ditzy inventions like an Egg Belt, a pine cone bag and his “cuckoo clock,” a flying machine sans wings that he’s sure he can get airborne over his home village, giving everyone the time any time they deign to look up.
“I got so much goin’ on up ‘ere,” he brags to the filmmakers, who keep their cackling off the soundtrack to maintain the air of professionalism.
One day Brian gets the hare-brained notion that he can build a robot, and “72 hours” later, there it is. Except it won’t power up. It looks like David Byrne’s Huge Suit, fresh out of a washing machine box and being worn by Herman Munster. But if it won’t work, “nice laugh, isn’t it?”
It’s the bin for him.
That is, until a lightning storm rumbles through and Brian finds himself coming home to a “plastic pal that’s fun to be with,” a robot who is plainly sentient and learning as fast as he can read…books.
Brian has no wifi, apparently, otherwise the front-loader who agrees to the name “Charles” would plow through toddlerhood and adolescence a lot faster than he does in this light, brisk comedy.
Brian decides to keep his new friend to himself, which Charles bristles at. It’s not just that the village wouldn’t understand. There’s this bully (Jamie Michie) of a neighbor with his brutish brood to be avoided at all costs.
Naturally, he and they cannot be avoided forever. Brian faces his moment of truth. Perhaps Charles will as well.
Sight gags like Charles dressing up in a DIY hula skirt to “walk” to Honolulu, once he’s seen it on the telly, or donning shower curtains and a hat that make him look like an Italian monsignor, abound.
And situations include Charles matter-of-factly fixing Brian up with the equally awkward and lonely Hazel (Louise Brealey, terrific) the way unfiltered little kids do.
Earl makes a pleasant eccentric as the lead, a sort of on-the-spectrum/not-quite-social Nick Frost. Who doesn’t love Nick Frost?
It’s all of a piece, and just as charming and engrossing as a silly mockumentary about a robot maturing from boot-up to rebellious teen can be. No, Wales doesn’t come off as anything but grey and repressed and backward. But whatever “Brian and Charles” don’t do for Welsh tourism they more than make up for in warm, goofy entertainment value.
Rating: PG for language, mild violence, and smoking
Cast: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey and Jamie Michie
Credits: Directed by Jim Archer, scripted by David Earl and Chris Hayward. A Focus Features release.
Running time: 1:30