***1/2 (out of five)
Brendan Cowell’s debut feature film as a director, based on his own play, sails breezily along with terrific dialogue, great performances and an extremely relatable story. It’s excellent contemporary entertainment, the kind of character and situation-based comedy the French do so well but Australian cinema, not so much.
The titular Guthrie is an extremely successful young advertising creative who likes the sauce a wee bit much. When his stunning Czech model girlfriend (a superb turn by Abbey Lee, who is not Czech but certainly has been a model) leaves, demanding that he needs to go sober for a year in order to even hope for a reconciliation, he heads to AA and tries to ditch the demon drink, at least for the requested 365 days.
Patrick Brammall is superb as Guthrie. The movie lives or dies on his performance and it absolutely lives. He spins Cowell’s wicked zingers with ease and aplomb, and completely dominates the darker moments as well (he has one monologue in AA that may have seemed unactable on the page, but he pulls it off). It’s a fully lived-in, totally believable and engaging performance, and a likeable one, which is important, as Ruben definitely does some terribly unchivalrous things.
Brammall is very ably supported by all around him. Robyn Nevin gives a wonderfully funny performance as his loveable but completely misguided mum; Jeremy Sims roars his way through the film’s least likely character (more on that in a moment) and makes it work; Alex Dimitriades brings his smarmy charm as Ruben’s best mate and worst nightmare; and Harriet Dyer is excellent as a fellow alcoholic who becomes Ruben’s “Step 13”.
The story has a couple of challenging leaps of faith that carry over from the play, namely that Ruben’s biggest obstacles to getting sober are his parents and his boss (Sims). We are meant to buy that Ruben is far more talented drunk than sober and that Sims’ character essentially insists that Ruben starts drinking again – despite being a sober alcoholic himself. It’s a convenient plotting device that rings (at least to my ears) unlikely, but at least it allows us Sims, who makes a hearty meal of the few scenes he’s in. Brendan Thwaites, as a rival within the ad agency, is slyly awesome as well.
The movie’s third act, constructed around two extremely long montages (which seem to be padded out to accommodate the music rather than the other way around, although that music is excellent) is less disciplined than the first two, but it contains a killer scene and an expertly appropriate ending. All in all, it’s a flashy and very funny ride with a big heart and, dare I say, an important message. Recommended.