On the outside it looks like Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammall) has it all made. After just picking up another major Advertising Award he returns home to Sydney to have a house party to celebrate. But when his swimsuit model girlfriend Zoya (Abbey Lee) watches him once again take the regular trek of getting drunk before injuring himself while jumping off the roof of his mansion into a pool his life comes crashing down.
Horrified at the near miss Zoya sets him an ultimatum. She heads back overseas and tells him not to come and find her until he has gone twelve months sober. Ruben thinks it will be easy and while he is at first reluctant to join an Alcoholic Anonymous group he soon finds one that has him opening up as he gets closer to the very hippy-like Virginia (Harriet Dyer).
But while Ruben starts feeling really good he soon finds those around him disagree. Soon his parents Peter (Jack Thompson), Susan (Robyn Nevin) and his best friend Damian (Alex Dimitriades) are always trying to get him to drink, as is his boss (Jeremy Sims) who feels that his sobriety has taken away his edge.
There is nothing quite as disappointing as a film that has so much potential but then fails at the last few hurdles – sadly that also the best way to describe new Australian film Ruben Guthrie. The film comes from a brilliant stable, based on a well received theatre play from one of Australia’s top writers and actors Brendan Cowell so therefore it is completely head scratching at why the film leaves itself open to so much criticism.
Having said that though Ruben Guthrie is not the complete mess that many critics would have you believe, misguided perhaps, but a mess… no way. To its credit Ruben Guthrie is nowhere near as bad as what its trailer makes it look and there are more than enough times throughout the film that it manages to win you over. There are some deeply touching scenes as the audience watches a man try to overcome his inner demons while his family and friends don’t seem to want to allow him to heal. Then there is also the fantastic soundtrack put together by Sarah Blasko that is so haunting it brings back flashes off the fantastic Somersault soundtrack from all those years ago.
But for every good thing about Ruben Guthrie something ugly raises its head. Stupid little questions like why does a raging alcoholic keep a well stocked bar going while he is trying to give up alcohol? They may seem small but they are the kinds of things that can really make a film like this seem less believable. Then there are the walking clichés. As if Jeremy Sims’ portrayal of an advertising executive isn’t cringe worthy enough then there is the over-the-top portrayal of a gay character, a shame when Alex Dimitriades has played such a realistic gay character in the amazing film Head On a few years ago. Sadly for Dimitriades here it is sad to take his character seriously because of the bad directing and screenwriting, it may have been supposed to make him look like a bully boy that the audience hated but the result is such a clichéd mincy character that most of the times the audience finds themselves laughing at him instead of hating him.
It seems such a shame that the film has problems like that when Cowell (who also directs here) manages to overcome the biggest problem of all – and that is to get the audience on side with Ruben Guthrie. At the start of this film he is a despicable character. He is a complete prick and you wonder how on Earth there will ever be a time when you find yourself barracking for him. But somehow Cowell manages to overcome that problem, and even when Ruben is starting a relationship with Virginia despite his promise to Zoya you can’t help but once again want to see him succeed. Yes this is a very schizophrenic script with its massive amount of ups and downs.
If nothing else Ruben Guthrie does set the path for young actor Patrick Brammall to really make a name for himself. The youngster has really crafted a way for himself with some great performances on television in shows like Glitch and Upper Middle Bogan etc, but here he manages to find just the right mix of dramatic and comedic acting to suggest that he may become the next Australian export overseas. Star-on-the-rise Brenton Thwaites is massively under-used however a newly found talent is discovered with Harriet Dyer who manages to steal the scene on a number of occasions. Aussie acting legends Jack Thompson and Robyn Nevin also just breeze through the roles providing a couple of laughs along the way.
Sadly Ruben Guthrie isn’t nearly as strong as it should have been. The screenplay raises too many questions for the audience to talk about once they leave the cinema and you really feel that the film doesn’t explore the notion of Australian culture and alcoholism to the full extent it should have been. Not a complete waste of time but could have been a lot better.
Director: Brendan Cowell
Starring: Patrick Brammall, Jack Thompson, Robyn Nevin, Alex Dimitriades, Abbey Lee, Harriet Dyer
Running Time: 90 mins
Release Date: TBA