Reuniting the Rubins

Posted on: 02 March 2012 by Tony Kirwood

Dream retirement is put on hold for Timothy Spall in this British made comedy

Reuniting the Rubins

Comedies about dysfunctional middle-class families haven’t been embraced much of late by British directors, Mike Leigh apart. Yoav Factor sets out to redress the balance with his first feature  “Reuniting the Rubins”, which has the added frisson of being about a Jewish family.

Lenny Rubins (Timothy Spall) is manipulated by his dying mother (Honor Blackman) to postpone his retirement cruise so he can reunite his quarrelling children for the festival of Pesach (Passover). What follows is a parade of tantrums as the four fractious siblings are brought back under the same roof. Will they set aside their egos and get on for the sake of their grandma?

It’s a nice setup for a character comedy. Yoav Factor wisely doesn’t water down the Jewishness of the Rubins, while keeping their problems and failings universal. It’s rather let down, though, by a tendency to cliché. 

Son Danny Rubins is an entrepreneur who barks phrases like “Bottom line!” and “Bullet points!” down his mobile. Daughter Andie is an anti-corporate activist working in Africa with a tribe who welcome white visitors with grass skirts and a war dance. The other sons include a Buddhist monk who tells Lenny “Existence is like an ocean” and Yona, a highly orthodox Rabbi in Jerusalem. It feels a little bit as if they’re pieces in a board game (“Split the Family!”) rather than genuine siblings.

This makes it rather hard to care for them as things build to a climax when they reassemble in England. Andi and Danny predictably fall out over his dangerous corporate interventions in Africa, and Yona is finicky about the correct observation of the festival (the other two are atheists). We don’t get to see any deeper reasons for their quarrels or signs of Lenny’s role in building such a fractured family. 

It’s all held together, though, by the spirited acting of the cast, especially James Callis as Danny and Rhona Mitra as Andie. Timothy Spall brings heart and soul to Lenny with his trademark crumpled decency. He is one of the few actors who can walk about with his shirt hanging out and make us love him all the more. The part of the mother is one which tempts overplaying, but Honor Blackman resists, with an affecting stillness.

Yoav Factor has real visual flair and certainly knows how to compose a frame. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Things move forward at an un-indulgent snappy pace, unlike too many first-time independent films. 

I hope he makes further movies. Once he’s learnt more to get inside the heads and hearts of his characters, he’ll be on course to make something genuinely quirky and original. The British film industry will be the richer.

Directed by Yoav Factor. Starring Timothy Spall, Honor Blackman.

Reuniting The Rubins [DVD] is available on BluRay and DVD

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