Brendan Cowell’s feature debut, drawn from autobiographical sources that he initially honed into a play, seems set to become a compelling, admonishing tale about the woes and general social digressions negatively associated with excessive alcohol assumption. But the thematic concerns of Ruben Guthrie (2015) are mostly nothing so sincere; in fact it’s just a tidy-up-my-life-for-a-year-before-getting-back-on-the-bandwagon kind of film, though full of sharp, witty verbal interplay, overdrawn, close to cartoonish characters and a leg on either side of the fence.
Sure, Cowell takes pains to emphasise, we all get a little stupid with extreme drinking at times, but if you’re just willing to pull your head in, then the world and all its fringe benefits will slow become realigned and you can jump right back into the sea of demon beverages. On one level, you have to admire Cowell’s attempt to open up the eyes of his main character Guthrie (Patrick Brammell), a cocky advertising whiz who tosses down bottles of anything at hand as if they were flavoured lollies. His long-time model girlfriend Zoya (Abbey Lee) has finally reached the end of her tether however after he ends up in hospital after an inelegant swan dive off the roof of his building and into his pool.
She walks out, telling him that if he stays off the booze for a year she’ll reconsider a return. So into self-defence mode goes Ruben, his eyes opened to his own recklessness and a wider perspective of what he really holds true in life. He signs up for AA and despite staying the path and ignoring liquid temptation, finds himself instead falling in and out of bed with another member of the regular group, Virginia (the excellent Harriet Dyer).
Drinking has genuine destructive power when uncontained and relationships suffer. Inverting such a notion, Ruben’s mother Susan (Robyn Nevin) later has difficulty coming to terms with his sobriety after being the one to hold his hand at his first AA meeting. Cowell has relevant things to say about the stigma of drinking too and conversely, the heave of a cultural bias that expects men of real substance to be regular imbibers or forfeit their masculinity. Ruben’s dad (Jack Thompson) thinks his wagon-jumping is some kind of sick joke; his superior Ray (Jeremy Sims) admits that his star executive is notches below scratch without a drink to fire up his creative juices, whilst a ludicrously over-the-top gay friend Damian (Alex Dimitriades) does everything he can to incorporate a saunter down memory lane with he and Ruben’s most notorious drinking misadventures from days gone by.
The entire narrative is certainly strung together in an entertaining fashion, excesses and brash characterisations aside. Brammell, so fine in the recent mini-series Glitch as an everyman town police officer dealing with the inexplicable return from beyond the grave, is equally good here. He basically makes an obnoxious arsehole empathetic to a large degree, and even if Cowell’s motives in putting Ruben through his paces are less than sincere in tackling larger themes in an honest, dramatic way, Brammell still manages to make us care about Ruben’s fate and a reconciliation with Zoya for the right reasons. The final scenes are a letdown however; depending on your perspective, they either offer us the blessed relief of an inevitable capitulation or a bleak, throwaway reconsideration of what truly constitutes manhood in Australia.
Ruben Guthrie is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray through Madman Entertainment. More details HERE.