Sydney Film Festival Reviewed

We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.

The Film That Will Make You Want To Do Dry July:


Ruben Guthrie, dir. Brendan Cowell

Starring: Patrick Brammal, Abbey Lee, Alex Dimitriades

Reviewed by: Dee Jefferson

It’s not a film festival without a heated debate – these days, inevitably around issues of gender politics and representation rather than cinematic merit, for better or worse. Brendan Cowell’s screen adaptation of his play Ruben Guthrie was that film – the one responsible for the most (mostly) friendly fights. Was it a satire of racism, alcoholism and misogyny in Australian culture, a satire of ad men, of capitalism? Or a celebration of it? Or was it in between: an attempt to satirise aspects of our culture and society, that ends up inadvertently reinforcing them? I think most people who saw the play in one or both of its Belvoir iterations (2008 and 2009) will have known what to expect, and read it as an imperfect satire.

Even those who did, however, may have had trouble with the largely white, male and self-centred universe of the film, and found inadequate representations of women: like Ruben’s model ex Zoya, an emotionally manipulative recovering-crack-addict love interest Virginia, and his boozy mother Susan (who literally pours wine down the throat of her recovering alcoholic son near the end of the film). Others will find the entire roster of characters too thoroughly unlikeable to spend 90 minutes with.

Finally, there’s the awkward insertion of not one but two ads for Vivid Sydney (the first in the context of showing Ruben’s most recent award-winning campaign; the second for no good reason) and liberal product and logo placement for Lexus (another campaign of Ruben’s). In the context of a festival sponsored by both organisations, these scenes unsurprisingly drew snark on opening night. It could have been a meta-theatrical exercise on the part of Cowell and/or the festival and distributor, but no-one seemed to read it that way.

All this detracts from what is actually an interesting discussion about Australian drinking culture (incidentally, Ruben is one of three Australian films in the festival in which alcoholism was a major plot point – the others being Last Cab to Darwin and The Daughter), a mostly well-made film and a satisfying satire of co-opted hipsterism and Sydney’s bright young things. The film – like Ruben – is imperfect but incredibly charismatic, and its heart is in the right place, I think.

For Fans Of: Entourage

Opening In Australia: July 16

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