Brendan Cowell’s directorial debut Ruben Guthrie, adapted from his play of the same name, is about streaming past the spaces between extremes. Ruben (Patrick Brammall) is an ‘ad’ man whose reputation for chaos and debauchery is almost on par with his savant like gifts for creating winning campaigns. When a celebratory tipple escalates into a poorly aimed drunken swan dive from his roof to his pool, his model fiancé Zoya (Abbey Lee) gives him an ultimatum, sober up for a year or it’s over.
The most admirable thing about Ruben Guthrie is that it constantly avoids the sinkholes that surround this kind subject matter. Any film where the main character is in advertising (see How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) the filmmaker must litter the film with brands for authenticity, but avoid the ‘that’s clearly product placement’ knee jerk reaction of those three hour tech and travel ads for China that Michael Bay directs (also some robots smash stuff in them). The integration of products, campaigns and Ruben’s office space provide texture to Sydney. It also helps that his team at work is absurd enough to offset the glamour. With the near incomprehensible Michael Lahoud, prodding Ruben for encouragement and mashing up daily calendar motivational quotes, or Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Son of a Gun) and his overt and effortless douche-ness is damned hilarious playing the YouTube generation’s successor to Ruben.
Cowell has a wonderful way of refracting almost every character through Ruben. It’s especially evident when Brammall conveys Ruben’s dismissiveness of his first ‘AA’ or alcoholics anonymous meeting by describing the inherent fun of a ‘blackout’. Recounting a wild post work drinks that escalated into a week long bender ending with smoking ‘ice’ in Western Sydney in front of an audience of cats; you suddenly get Brammall shift away from the thoughts of that conversation starter to the collateral damage of his hedonistic pursuits.
Patrick Brammall is sensational as Ruben. Apart from looking like a younger and more svelte version of the writer/director Cowell he’s able to both wholly participate in the activities that he’s required to do, to satisfy and solidify his sobriety but he’s able to portray a detachment that casts doubt on how meaningful each of these experiences is to him at any given time. Ruben almost unavoidably surrounds himself with a chorus of enablers that constantly attempt to undermine him.
Alex Dimitriades swagger’s into the film as Ruben’s best friend and just steals every damned scene. If the devil were a raging, beautiful, boisterous gay man, he’d look like Dimitriades. In mere seconds of walking into Ruben’s life and establishing that he’s brought home the perfect assortment of duty free alcohol to celebrate his recent loss of employment you further cement his affect on the people around him.
Abbey Lee’s Zoya is an idea; she’s not really a whole character as much as Ruben’s final accessory to fulfilment. The catalyst for this change sits squarely on her gauntlet, but the further inward and introspective that Ruben becomes the ultimately less important she becomes. With Lee’s limited time in film, she’s solid but her purpose is to further reaffirm the narcissistic hedonism of Ruben in the throes of his addiction; but she doesn’t quite inspire the premise. Harriet Dyer steps into Ruben’s life as the quirky addict who gets to provide solace and quickly evolves into a force of self-congratulatory accomplishment as he detaches from everything that once defined him.
The film hits unparalleled heights in one of the final scenes of the film in an exchange between Ruben and his mother (played by the divine Robyn Nevin). Nevin descends calls on the evil spirit of Nurse Ratchett from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in an exchange of bleak emotional and psychological conflict that you’ll see Brammall faced with challenge that you’re willing him to be up to overcoming.
Brendan Cowell’s Ruben Guthrie is a deeply personal, thoughtful and darkly hilarious of wrestling with your demons while everybody loves them.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Brendan Cowell
Written by: Brendan Cowell (from his play of the same name)
Starring: Patrick Brammall, Alex Dimitriades, Abbey Lee, Harriet Dyer, Jeremy Sims, Yvonne Cowell, Michael Lahoud, Brenton Thwaites, Robyn Nevin, Jack Thompson, Aaron Bertram