Forget the sleek silicon and smooth chrome, we have a new vision of a sentient robot, and it was cobbled together with spare parts that were lying around the house. Charles — who wants you to know his full name, Charles Petrescu — is a 7ft-tall boxy mess with a mannequin head, washing-machine torso and a blue light in his eye that he can’t turn off when he goes to sleep. He may not be an ideal robot in any other way, but he’s the perfect machine for this movie.
Brian and Charles tells the story of an awkward, lonely man who creates this robot practically by accident. I say “practically” because Brian is in fact trying to build a robot, but a quick tour of his other inventions — a bag with pinecones glued to it, a “flying cuckoo clock” that’s basically a bicycle turned into a fire hazard — reveals no notable signs of skill or know-how. When he excitedly flips the switch to turn on his own version of Frankenstein’s monster, nothing happens. However, somehow, whether by magic or a wiring issue that fixed itself, the boxy behemoth soon becomes alive.
The emerging narrative isn’t particularly sophisticated, nor does it show killer instinct for comedic followthrough. But its droll charm feels in touch with the slow, go-nowhere vibe of the Welsh countryside setting. David Earl, best known for his work on Ricky Gervais’s After Life, stars as Brian. Chris Hayward, who co-wrote the screenplay with Earl, plays the robot comedy partner. Earl and Hayward possess a nice rapport that holds the film together, with the help of Louise Brealey as Hazel, who provides Brian with the added stress of a love interest.
The robot turns out to be as awkward as its inventor, while also completely naive to the ways of the world. Charles may be able to learn English very fast, but he doesn’t understand what the world is like, and quickly transitions from annoyingly curious child to petulant teenager. The tragic humor is that Brian wanted to build himself a friend, but Charles would much rather go see the world, especially Hawaii, which he saw on TV.
Director Jim Archer does a good job of letting his star duo stew in their oddness, but fails to give the work aesthetic and narrative consistency. For example, the opening sequence plays as a faux documentary, to the point that the camera operator even asks Brian a question, yet by the middle the camera operator ceases to be a character.
The film has some very sweet and endearing moments to go along with the deadpan humor, but often loses its train of thought before just when a scene starts gaining momentum. But somehow, it works despite never getting fully off the ground. Perhaps because that failure to launch also embodies its hero.