Directed and Written by Brendan Cowell
Alcohol. It is a drug that for some reason is socially acceptable when much less harmful drugs can potentially carry jail time. It is a strange situation, and it plays a major factor in this story. Ruben Guthrie won an award, you see, for an advertising campaign. So, as any proud Aussie would do, he decided to celebrate, culminating in him being so wasted that he decided jumping off the roof of his house into his pool was a good idea.
Ahhh, alcohol, such a benign drug. He of course manages to miss the centre of the pool, breaking his arm, and lucky to not wind up in a hospital. Cue his girlfriend walking out, telling him to get off the sauce for a year and then to come find her in Prague – her hometown.
365 days without a drink. Can Ruben do it? Could you do it?
At the insistence of his mother, Ruben begins to attend AA meetings, making sure to say “I’m not one of you”. He gleefully mocks the program, until some members of the group help him see the reality of the situation he has put himself in. Why was he up on the roof in the first place? After initially scoffing at it, Ruben begins to enjoy the AA program and begins his quest to go 365 days without touching a drink.
Unsurprisingly, his friends don’t take to this new persona very well. Its “Un-Australian” to not have a drink we hear at one point, as everyone from his father to his boss to his estranged best friend don’t like this new persona. They want their friend back, they want their fun-loving buddy back. This shows a staggering ignorance to drinking problems, which are real and should be respected by a person’s friends and family. The opposite is the case here, as the film accurately portrays the binge-drinking culture that we have down here in Australia. His friends think he is weird for not drinking. He is suddenly an outcast when asking for a water rather than alcohol.
Once Ruben is entrenched in the AA program, the movie truly skewers it, as Ruben begins to act as if it is a cult. His friends see this, and try desperately to talk sense into him. His life is now revolving around the meetings, annoying his friends even further. When he refers to AA as ‘the movement’ the script doesn’t make it subtle that Ruben has been transfixed by the spell of AA, finding a ‘higher power’ and admitting that he is powerless over his problem with alcohol.
I have been to NA meetings myself. I went through that typical ‘Hi my name is…” etc etc. Being forced to admit that I was powerless over my addiction was something I had a major problem with. That and I don’t believe in any sort of higher power, but it was admitting that I was powerless that really irked me. How can I recover if one of the first steps is to essentially give up?!
Now please don’t think I am trash-talking folks who have gone through the program – it only makes me happy to learn of someone has succeeded in quitting their vice. But with a five percent success rating, I have serious reservations about the entire thing.
Tangent over, let’s get back to Ruben. He meets a cute girl in his new group, and from here unfortunately the film falls down hard, as the solid foundation that had been built turns into a standard rom-com. While offering some great laughs, some very dark in nature, it loses its steam because of this change in focus. The original premise was promising… If only they had stuck with it for the entire movie without muddying it up with romantic sub-plots.
The character of Ruben is well written. He is typical of many Aussies, and he goes through so many different phases it can hard to know what he will do next. None of the other characters are really developed, but Ruben benefits from a strong character arc. Patrick Brammall is great as Ruben, while a special mention has to go to Australian TV regular Alex Dimitriades as Ruben’s gay best friend. Its clear he had a blast with that role.
This one is good for a Friday night watch, with a beer or two just for the fun of it. This is a simple movie with a simple plot and a lot of laughs. I still can’t help but feel though that the premise of the film could have been explored in much more interesting ways, rather than the story devolving into a predictable love triangle. The first half of Ruben Guthrie is easily its best, though unfortunately it is downhill for the second half, punctuated by an extremely frustrating ending that suggests the writers didn’t know how to end their story. Definitely worth a rent as there are some great laughs to be found, but not much more.
Half a six-pack, poor Ruben will have to make these beers last.
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