Artificial Intelligence in cinema usually doesn’t end well. From 2001’s HAL to Aliens’ Ash, there’s usually something evil lingering underneath the circuits. In the new British comedy Brian and Charles, however, all the robot star wants is a train pass.
Ricky Gervais collaborator David Earl writes and stars as Brian, a lonely man living in rural Wales who turns to inventing as a means of getting through a personal tragedy.
After some spirited misfires, he is inspired to invent a sentient robot made from a washing machine and a mannequin head. His new friend names himself Charles, but their friendship is threatened by a jealous local and Charles’ curiosity about the outside world.
It’s a simple, quirky film that brings to mind Lars and the Real Girl or 2014 black comedy Frank. Director Jim Archer doesn’t really sweat the intricacies, with Charles’ mechanics and Brian’s grief left to the audience’s imagination.
It’s a story about the walls that are put up around people after painful experiences, and how a childlike perspective can knock them down. Innocently amusing, it’s a joy to watch the pair bob up and down to music in a messy kitchen, or see Charles’ sudden, excited movements convey the emotion his frozen face can’t.
Earl has to carry a lot of the film and does a terrific job, playing a harmless oddball that many will have met at some point in their lives.
He has an adorably awkward connection with Sherlock actor Louise Brealey as Hazel, a villager who has a soft spot for Brian and becomes his accomplice in the film’s surprisingly tense third act.
Offbeat comedies often have difficulty with tone, but Brian and Charles manages to make both the moments of comedy and menace work. Rather than being a portent of mankind’s doom, this robot provides a hilarious lesson in how to be human.