Ruben Guthrie

Review by John Campbell

Winter, between school hols, is generally the time of year that you find the more interesting movies turning up. They sneak into the cinema like refugees from the glitzy world of blockbusters and celebrity rom-coms and, as often as not, depart unnoticed. Their plight is made no easier if they happen to be Australian for, let’s face it, our homegrown artists just don’t get a look in when the mega-stars and big bucks of Hollywood’s PR machine swamp the media.

Acclaimed actor Brendan Cowell, last seen in the wonderful Save Your Legs (2012), has made his debut as writer/director in a confessional film, adapted from his play, of scything humour and stark social comment.

Ruben (Patrick Brammall) is a leading light in Sydney’s advertising scene. He lives in a stylish but sterile harbour-view house with Zoya (Abbey Lee), his gorgeous blond girlfriend from Prague, and indulges in untrammelled hedonism. But he also has a problem that threatens to devour him – he loves the grog to the point that he cannot function without it. When Zoya leaves him, Ruben decides to confront his demon.

Cowell asks more challenging questions than he answers by going full-frontal with his depiction of our contemporary mores. How can Ruben – or anybody – get sober and achieve self-determination when he is enmeshed in a mob-minded culture that puts such a high premium on obligatory good times and ‘having a drink’ (which, of course, always means having plenty more)?

He turns to AA, where he meets Virginia, an ex-junkie who is now addicted to self-help platitudes (it’s a portrayal of uncanny accuracy by Harriet Dyer). And all the while he is being lured back onto the juice by his old, gay friend Damian (Alex Dimitriades).

Warming to Ruben is initially difficult, for Cowell is not afraid of showing him as the dickhead that he is, but empathy is more genuine when truth’s ugliness is accepted and overcome. It’s the outsider Zoya who says it – twice: we are ‘an alcoholic nation’. Ruben’s journey is Australia’s.

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