Dir: Brendan Cowell
Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammall) is a successful advertising executive engaged to a beautiful foreign model and living the high life in Sydney. That high life consists of alcohol fuelled days and nights where blackouts are common and leaping from the roof of your apartment into the pool seems like a good idea. It’s after one such leap goes badly that Ruben’s girlfriend (Abby Lee) leaves him with a broken arm and a challenge: if he can go without alcohol for a year, she will be willing to see him again.
Brendan Cowell’s stage play has been an acclaimed success so it is only natural that this should be his choice to debut as director. As a writer he has written episodes of The Slap and Love My Way (very successfully) and feature film Save Your Legs (not so successfully). To direct is another thing altogether and Cowell has tackled what is often the elephant in every room and backyard bbq in the country: our culture’s love affair with alcohol.
It is always a challenge to try to highlight an issue that just about every adult in the country is complicit in at a social or more serious level. Guthrie does so head on and demonstrates how the eponymous main character faces backlash from friends and his parents (Robyn Nevin and Jack Thompson) on his quest. The myriad little pressures felt along the way in social and work situations affront him. His boss (also on the wagon) even bemoans that Guthrie’s creativity is on the wane without alcohol. In this respect, dealing with its main theme, Cowell is successful.
Unfortunately the tone of the film seems a little out of kilter. Billed as a comedy, light moments fall flat. At times the drama is undercut when these moments don’t serve their purpose. Brammall who is so often hilarious (ABC’s The Moodys Christmas comes to mind) seems robbed of the punch lines he can deliver so well in other contexts. Of course it’s tough to create black humour in this thematic area but the film seems unsure if it wants to. Jack Thompson seems to be playing a broader character, a feel that might have suited the film more overall. Robyn Nevin is terrific and one gut wrenching scene in particular suggests that a great film might have been somewhere just under the surface of this one.
In the end, I left the cinema pondering the place of alcohol in our culture and in my own life. That’s a win for Cowell, isn’t it?