Nice bit of alliteration that, wasn’t it?
Featuring a veritable smorgasbord of British talent, as diverse as Timothy Spall, James Callis, Honor Blackman and Blake Harrison (who has a wonderful Golden Age name to defy his usual on-screen antics), Reuniting the Rubins is a dysfunctional family comedy that never seems able to channel the talent of its collected cast. Spall’s character must unite his warring children, played by Callis, Harrison, Rhona Mitra and Hugh O’Conor at the behest of the matriarch of the family – Blackman’s Gran, who is dying, naturally.
The film is a British Royal Tenebaums if you will, only minus the oddball charm and with a definite sitcom edge to it, which can’t survive its rampant caricatures – the problem is there is an obviously dilluted American spirit in the comedy and the dynamics between characters, albeit with a new, more acerbic British flavour, which simply doesn’t work with the script. That script is particularly poor, and it is definitely despite it that any of the actors are able to do anything of note – Spall in particular, though charismatic enough in full bumbling mode, seems to be fighting a tide for the entire time, and the result is less than inspiring.
Oddly, this is one of the first examples of a British Jewish film that seeks to explore the family dynamic and doesn’t simply focus on the Holocaust or its ghosts explicitly, which is a surprising revelation, but one which I can’t help but wish was achieved in the hands of another, better film.
As a vehicle for Timothy Spall, Reuniting the Rubins works, but it doesn’t work massively well: he is charming as the put-upon patriarch, tasked with reuniting his warring children, and his relationship with Honor Blackman is particularly good to watch. But it is no more than pleasantly diverting, and Spall deserves more – but then film-makers have struggled for a long time to find a suitable starring vehicle for him. He is always a welcome presence in ensembles and supporting roles, but his charm is very much off-kilter, and unfashionable personability that doesn’t necessarily meet any film-making expectations of the leading man, no matter how well he can move from comedy to serious content.
Not only does the film fail to get the best out of its undoubtedly talented cast, it also fails to draw enough out of what could have been excellent subject matter, languishing in unhelpful caricatures that aren’t necessarily dangerous or limited stereotypes, but which aren’t human enough to really engage. They’re flat, and so the comedy and the pathos fall flat in response. And that’s just it – it is incredibly difficult to care at all about anything that happens – the characters are little more than caricatures, to admire briefly but never to empathise with, or even really care what happens to them either way.
Overall, Reuniting the Rubins is harmless, unspectacular comedy, let down by a poor script and light-weight direction, which feels like it might be more at home in a Sunday evening slot on ITV. It isn’t the worst thing you’ll see this year, but it will be difficult to remember it after you do. And that if is a big one, given how limited the release looks, and how relatively unrewarding a search for a screen with it on would be.
Reuniting the Rubins debuts on limited release in cinemas today.
This article was first posted on October 21, 2011