The Breaker Upperers
Two emotionally crippled best friends (played by Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film) make a living as professional relationship saboteurs, stepping in for those too cowardly to dump their partner personally. Through sing-a-grams, fake pregnancies, police impersonations and feigned missing-persons cases, they successfully break a string of hearts, but it all spins out of control when they get personally involved with their cases.

New Zealand comedy has a real confidence to it lately, and The Breaker Upperers is another success. IRL-besties Sami and van Beek – ably assisted by supporting actors James Rolleston and Celia Pacquola – turn in winning performances as two jaded cynics tearing love a new one. The film is warm, hilarious and crass in equal measure. The cynical, anti-romance premise sits naturally in the cartoonish world Sami and van Beek have built, but the sum total of the film isn’t cynical at all. Instead, it builds into something fresh, upbeat and hopeful. Out-and-out rom-com gold.

The Breaker-Upperers is screening at Palace Nova, Wallis Cinemas and Hoyts.
Watch the trailer.

Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, Marley) turns his eye to the story of Whitney Houston: her talent, meteoric success and subsequent decline.

Houston was born with musical pedigree – her mother sang backup for Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin – and she was first cousin to Say a Little Prayer singer (and one of the most recognisable pop voices of the ’60s) Dionne Warwick. Her trajectory has been well documented by tabloid media, but this film works because it shows audiences the woman behind the image.

Whitney is foreboding from the beginning. Houston tells of being chased by the devil in a recurring dream as her breezy number-one hit How Will I Know plays over footage of the 1967 Newark race riots. A wealth of behind-the-scenes family footage is revealing in the extreme: it gives a sense of the real Whitney – “Nippy” as her father called her – and it shows the distressing circumstances of her slide into addiction. The film definitely doesn’t spare us details. Houston herself never gets the opportunity to speak candidly, but her singing voice shines throughout.

Whitney is playing at Palace Nova and Wallis Cinemas.
Watch the trailer.

Amid the phallic plinths and towers of Washington DC, a tough, wiry older woman holds back the tide of conservativism. At 85 years old, Ruth Bader Ginsburg works out every day and shows no sign of slowing down. She is, frankly, a bit nonplussed by all the attention, but that just adds to her charm.

As only the second woman to hold the position of associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Bader Ginsburg is a legend in her field; she’s a stoic, no-bullshit upholder of the constitution. She’s also something of a left-wing pop-culture icon immortalised in memes, via merchandise and on Saturday Night Live. They call her the “Notorious RBG”.

This dichotomy is explored in RBG, a sharp documentary by directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen. It traces Bader Ginsburg’s upbringing, family life and her long-standing dedication to feminism and to the law.

RBG is playing at Palace Nova, Mercury Cinema and Wallis Cinemas.
Watch the trailer.

The Wife
Early one morning, an elder statesman of literature (Jonathan Pryce) gets the call that tells him he’s being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His wife (Glenn Close) listens in on the other extension. They celebrate his win and head to Stockholm for several days of adulation for him, and long-suffering-wife duties for her.

The Wife excavates a man’s success to find sexism and subterfuge beneath, and couldn’t be more timely. Pryce is excellent as a philandering windbag – the history of literature is full of them – adores them, even – mythologising their behaviour as justification for genius. The real star, though, is Close, whose every movement is alive with decades of repressed rage underpinned by flashbacks to the couple’s early days where they’re played by Harry Lloyd and Annie Starke.

Between these intertwining time periods a familiar story of the misogyny that has kept women in the background for generations emerges. It’s set in the world of literature (and based on a 2003 novel by Meg Wolitzer), but cinema is just as natural a home for this story, populated as it is with its own history of overlooked women. A brilliant, symphonic character study.

The Wife is screening in cinemas everywhere.
Watch the trailer.