“How brave of you to stop drinking in this alcoholic country,” says Czech supermodel Zoya, played by local model Abbey Lee, in this new Aussie film about our great country’s troubled relationship with alcohol.
Based on a play by Brendan Cowell, Ruben Guthrie is an unapologetic look at our drinking problem – yes, our – and a wake-up call for anyone who would argue their social life isn’t inextricably linked to booze.
Young, wealthy and at the height of his career, advertising man Ruben Guthrie loves to celebrate his success with lavish parties at his waterfront Sydney home.
These parties involve plenty of drinks, hard drugs, strange women and crazy behaviour, like jumping off the roof into his pool – a stunt which lands him in hospital and then in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Frustrated by his refusal to address his drinking problem, his girlfriend Zoya decides to leave him, imploring him to come and find her once he’s given up drinking for a year.
While Ruben’s decision to ditch the drink for a year is apparently fairly seamless, it’s his friends and family who are the problem.
Ruben Guthrie isn’t so much a movie about an alcoholic struggling to drop the bottle but rather his loved ones who, by peer pressure, cultural references and habitual behaviours, make it hard for him to do so.
Those who’ve ever pressured a friend into having “just one more drink”, or criticised loved ones for refusing to get drunk with them may be left shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
Ruben’s boss Ray (Jeremy Sims) believes he is more creative when he’s tipsy, his best friend Damian (Alex Dimitriades) claims he can’t bond with him when he’s sober and even his own parents fear he loses his personality when he doesn’t drink.
These characters sound detestable but really they’re versions of people who pepper the social scene in a country where after-work celebration equates to “getting blind”, politicians down pints of beer and even the most austere of events (the Melbourne Cup, for example) are drenched in liquor.
Only a couple of months into his endeavour, Ruben is unsure who to trust. While his fellow AA group members are humorously loopy and intense (especially the blue-haired Virginia) they often display more rationality than his upper-class, well-educated friends and family.
Set against the sun-drenched backdrop of Sydney’s stunning harbour, Ruben’s struggles with his inner demons seem absurd, leaving you to wonder why someone surrounded by all that beauty would need to drink so much.
Unfortunately, it’s a question that could be asked of many Australians living a privileged existence yet drowning their “sorrows” every Friday night.
As Ruben, Patrick Brammall is excellent. He’s thoughtless yet caring, brilliant yet idiotic and ultimately a product of those he surrounds himself with.
You barrack for him despite his shortfalls, making it all the more difficult to watch him succumb to temptation.
Australian supermodel Abbey Lee as Zoya is also a highlight with her flawless eastern European accent and impeccable comic timing.
Ruben Guthrie isn’t a perfect film – at times it feels a little slow and some of the characters border on caricatures – but it’s essential viewing for any Australian.
Tense, erratic and sometimes lackadaisical like its namesake, it poses an important question: how many people in your life would still hang out with you if you were off the sauce?