“Australians don’t want to be told we’re doing something wrong… we like to see ourselves on screen, but not criticized.”

Brendan Cowell addressed a huge gathering at the Sydney Apple Store following a screening of Ruben Guthrie. The world premiere of the Australian drama, written and directed by Cowell, opened this year’s Sydney Film Festival and is set for general release this week.

“This movie is based on a play based on myself taking a year off liquor… not only did I and my outlook on myself change, but everything changed,” said Cowell.

“If there’s anything I want the audience to take away other than the effect alcohol has on our society is that in Australia sometimes when someone tries to make a change or stick their neck out they get their head cut off… we need to develop a culture of getting behind people who make drastic changes.”

Set in and around Sydney’s bars, nightlife and suburbs, Ruben’s (Patrick Brammall) long-term girlfriend Zoya (Abbey Lee) leaves him after yet another bender by the award-winning advertising exec, this time jumping off his roof into the pool and breaking his arm. To get her back, Ruben swears off drinking for a year and joins a support group. His lifestyle change immediately affects his relationships with his friends, family, social circle and work where his colleagues pressure the creative director to get back on the grog.

Tapping into the contentious and very topical issue of alcohol abuse, Ruben Guthrie poignantly contrasts the reactions by his sponsor, workmates and family to his new-found tea-totalling. A conveyor-belt of characters enter, leave and re-enter Ruben’s life, resulting in a confused yet engaging mix of personalities that bring an emotional depth to what is at times a very dark story. The penultimate interaction between Ruben and his mother leaves a disturbing, lasting-image of alcohol-fuelled culture and dependence.

With varied, impactful performances and an intimate setting within several iconic Sydney locations, Ruben Guthrie is at once a sombre, funny and consistently entertaining drama about alcoholism in Australia and the struggle many face to overcome it.

4/5 stars