Ruben Guthrie’s Sobering Message for Australians

Ruben Guthrie kicks off with a bang – a glamourous awards after-party at a sprawling waterfront Sydney home, with an open bar and shimmering pool.

Ad man Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammal) living it up at the opening of the flick

Ad man Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammal) living it up at the opening of the flick

Ad man Ruben (played by Patrick Brammal) feels on top of the world. He’s ticking all the boxes – rich, successful, with a Czech supermodel as his fiancee (Abbey Lee). He feels so good in fact, that he jumps off his balcony, aiming for his pool and misses… well kind of misses.

With his arm in a sling, he’s given an ultimatum by his fiancee Zoya: go one year without drinking and get another chance. Which is when we start to see beneath Ruben’s – and Australian society’s – shiny veneer.

 

Ruben Guthrie holds up a mirror to Australian audiences and the result is not always a comfortable one. Australians typically love their booze, whether it’s a glass of white with lunch, a champagne toast, a beer with mates or a night on the sauce. Binge-drinking seems to not only be encouraged in Australian culture, but celebrated.

However, the reaction to those who choose not to drink is both surprising and quite baffling.

After initially supporting Ruben’s little dalliance with sobriety, his friends, boss, and even parents do a swift about-turn, repeatedly asking him to have a drink with them.

Ruben's dad has a hard time connecting with his son when wine isn't involved

Ruben’s dad has a hard time connecting with his son when wine isn’t involved

It’s shocking, but what’s most shocking, is how common that scenario is for Australians.

Writer/director Brendan Cowell (right) based Ruben Guthrie recently on his own experiences giving up alcohol

Writer/director Brendan Cowell (right) based Ruben Guthrie recently on his own experiences giving up alcohol

It’s loosely based on writer/director Brendan Cowell’s own experience giving up alcohol for a year, which led to him losing friends and his social life taking a hit. Cowell even developed tips for anyone who doesn’t want to be pestered about drinking (one: to ask for a soda water with ice and a lime, so people assume it’s a vodka soda and leave you alone).

“How brave of you to stop drinking in this alcoholic country,” Zoya says in the film.

Indeed.

Drinking is ingrained into our culture

Drinking plays a big part in Australian culture

A close friend of mine gave up drinking and what she noticed most, was how uncomfortable is made others feel. Friends would pester her, saying, “when are you going to start drinking again? It was so much fun when you drank.” It’s as if being around sober people, 1) makes others feel guilty about wanting a drink and 2) makes them realise how much they need a drink to have fun. So they push their own insecurities outward.

A small comfort is that these attitudes might either be changing, or young people are comfortable enough not to let peer pressure get to them. A new study has shown the proportion of teens abstaining from alcohol altogether has more than doubled, from 28 per cent in 2001 to 57.3 per cent in 2013.

However, for Australians over 40, drinking is still problematic, and heavy drinking is still stable among young adults, according to the study by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).

The message hits home in Ruben Guthrie, but it’s not without its problems. Ruben Guthrie was originally a successful stage play by Cowell and I tend to wonder how much this is his message getting lost in the transition from stage to screen.

I firstly did not warm to the amount of blatant product placement. Yes, it helped the film actually get financed and plays into the story of Ruben being in advertising, but ultimately the question has to be, at what cost? Where is the line drawn? It’s an important question, as product placement is likely to play a more and more prominent role in getting an expensive medium like film off the ground. Secondly, I found the characters themselves difficult to empathise with. In particular, I had issue with the depiction of women. Everyone from Ruben’s mother (played by Robyn Nevin), to his fiancee (Abbey Lee) to his girlfriend (Harriet Dyer), are either nasty, selfish, crazy or a little bit of each at different points in the movie.

Abbey Lee, Patrick Brammal and Robyn Nevin star in Ruben Guthrie

Abbey Lee, Patrick Brammal and Robyn Nevin star in Ruben Guthrie

But despite this, Ruben Guthrie is important because it carries a lot of food for thought. It has sparked a conversation about Australia’s drinking culture, which is always a good thing. The more Aussies who watch this film, the better, so people can ponder their own relationship with alcohol and how they might treat a friend who gives it up.

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Ruben Guthrie should be applauded for sparking a conversation about Australia’s drinking culture

 

 

Why you need to watch Inside Out

Let me put it out there straight away – I am an Amy Poehler fan.

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So there’s already a certain amount of bias from me before I even went to see the new Disney/Pixar animated flick Inside Out.

The emotions of 11-year-old Riley in Inside Out

The emotions of 11-year-old Riley in Inside Out

As expected, this sweet flick about the five emotions (Joy, Fear, Disgust, Sadness and Anger) inside an 11-year-old girl’s head, made me sob, guffaw, sob and reminisce about my own childhood. And sob. Did I mention that? This is a real doozy with switching on the waterworks. Which is also expected, considering it’s co-directed by Pete Doctor, who wrote and co-directed that other beautiful tearjerker Up.

But it’s also not just an intelligent, thought-provoking children’s movie. Inside Out is much more than that.

It’s a movie every child and adult should watch as an important lesson in mental health.

In Inside Out, Poehler voices the blue-haired, pixie-looking emotion Joy. No surprises there, considering the ever-optimistic attitude of many of Poehler’s characters, including Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation.

The always-positive Leslie Knope

The always-positive Leslie Knope

 

But Inside Out teaches us it’s not healthy to just have one emotion dominating all the time, as Poehler pointed out in this interview with The Guardian:

Joy and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith)

Joy and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith)

“I feel no one can be Joy all the time (and) I think the film reminds us that we have all the feelings and emotions running through our head,” she said.

“Joy has a really great arc in the film. She goes from thinking, she’s very single minded and thinking that happiness is the number one pursuit, to realising she needs to work with Sadness to get anywhere and she herself gets sad for the first time.”

Happiness seems to be the sole goal of our modern society, but to be constantly happy is not realistic.  It makes it hard when social media demands we only ever present a shiny, positive image to others. But I’m always curious about what’s on the left and right of that frame – where the truth and realism lie.  Our experiences don’t ever have to be defined as one singular feeling. When we’re on a rollercoaster, we can be scared and excited. Sometimes we can be so mad or exasperated at someone, but then they make you laugh. And sometimes we’re sad – and we’re allowed to be.

tumblr_mux65qd1dE1r5c2fso1_250Sure this is all a bit deep for a children’s movie, but it’s still a message that seeps through in a fun, incredibly imaginative way in Inside Out. And it’s an important one, particularly for children today, who I believe are facing so many more challenges than I did at their age.

Children today face many challenges

Children today face many challenges

I didn’t have to worry about Facebook, or Instagram. I could go home and switch off. But in a world that is always buzzing, always online, always demanding interaction, I think education on mental health is necessary to ensure people lead balanced lives.

So Inside Out may not be the greatest animated movie I’ve ever seen, but I think it’s one of the most important.

Just remember to take tissues.

Inside Out gets two thumbs up

Inside Out gets two thumbs up