Movie Review: Reuniting the Rubins

November 30, 2011 by Tali Lavi
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The premise was promising: Timothy Spall as a dutiful Jewish son whose emotionally blackmailing mother (Honor Blackman) demands a family reunion for the upcoming Seder.  A Rubins family Last Supper…writes Tali Lavi.

Such is the reach of this matriarch that Lenny (Spall), a middle-aged widower, forgoes his anticipated pleasure cruise to fulfil his mother’s wishes.

The comedy is designed to hinge on the fact that Lenny’s children are at odds with each other.  Danny (James Callis), a cutthroat businessman with dubious dealings in Africa, succeeds in spending the barest modicum of time with his young son Jake.  Andi (Rhona Mitra), a feisty eco-warrior based in the Congo is diametrically opposed politically and philosophically to her oldest brother.  Clarity, the family’s resident Buddist monk formerly known as Charlie (Asier Newman), is followed by the youngest son Jonathan, now referred to as Rabbi Yona (Hugh O’Connor).

The scenes of family interplay are embarrassingly farcical.  Yes, family reunions hold the possibility for containing riveting drama and thus inversely great comedy.  This film does not remotely fulfil that promise.  When Danny runs after Andi, calling out ‘Lesbian’, whilst she retaliates with cries of ‘Fascist’, as they enact a nightmarish acting out of childhood animosities, it is with all the tawdriness of a Benny Hill skit.

Reuniting the Rubins is riddled with clichés.  There’s Andi’s activism and the flash of her Christian Louboutin shoes, Yona’s thoroughly unconvincing Rabbi of the Scraggly Beard routine, the African tribesman who tells the unwitting tourist audience, ‘So spend your dollars, then get lost’.  The problem is, we’ve heard these jokes all before and their delivery here doesn’t extend or subvert them.

There are moments when the film endeavours to address more serious themes only to descend into mawkishness.  When Gran brandishes her Auschwitz tattoo to stress the import of seeing her sole post-Holocaust family, the score rises dramatically in an attempt to invoke the gravitas of the scene.  Unfortunately, its inauthenticity transforms it into the grotesque.  Blackman and Spall’s performances are not to blame; the former’s Yiddish-inflected pitch-perfect Gran rings true and Spall, with his talent for evoking wonder in the quotidian, is difficult to fault.  Rather, it is the overblown script and the hammy direction (both executed by Yoav Factor), the inclination to opt for a cheap laugh over a more complex one, that ensures this is one Seder meal the viewer would be well advised to pass over.

Reuniting the Rubins showed as part of the Jewish Film Festival.



One Response to “Movie Review: Reuniting the Rubins”
  1. Sol Salbe says:

    I have to confess to liking it more than this reviewer. I enjoyed the universalist aspects, especially the fact that so many non-Jewish actors were chosen and that every Hebrew word sounded mispronounced to a native speaker. Also appealing was the way Jewish customs and practices (like the covering of the mirror and the low chair for the Shiva’a ) were not explained. You could take as much of Jewish nature of the film as you wanted. I saw it with two non-Jewish women who both had a good laugh.

    That is not to say that I disagree with many of the criticism above. But different themes appeal to the different values we hold. As one of my friends said: it gave here a perspective for her family Christmas gathering.

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