The fascinating thing about Reuniting the Rubins is that it goes through a myriad of unexpected twists and turns before arriving at the ending we expect. Even more fascinating is the fact that the happy ending comes after a sequence of events that run the gamut from absurd to serious, both of which are the result of circumstances many would call exasperating, unwarranted, and even unpleasant. I’m not saying this to suggest that the film is confused or meandering; it’s simply unique in its approach to sentiment. After what we watch, which is at times mentally and emotionally exhausting, the ending comes at us like a cool, refreshing drink at the end of brisk jog. Who gives a hang how likely or unlikely it happens to be? Endings like the one in Reuniting the Rubins are half the reason we go to the movies in the first place.
It is, in short, a bittersweet comedy with a heart-warming finale. It tells the story of a family reunion – or, more accurately, the immense frustration and agony that goes into making the reunion possible. At the film’s heart is Lenny Rubins (Timothy Spall), a burnt-out lawyer whose dream of retirement is to take a relaxing cruise. His mother, known only as Gran (Honor Blackman), has a weakening heart and would like nothing more than for her family to get back together for the Jewish celebration of Pesach. Lenny is repeatedly forced into delaying his cruise, sometimes out of what appears to be an emergency situation, at other times out of guilt. As much as he wants to appease his mother, he doesn’t believe a reunion of any kind, let alone for a holiday, is possible.
Here enters his four grown children, who are so diametrically opposite from each other that it’s a wonder they haven’t killed anyone. His son, Clarity (Asier Newman), has become a Buddhist monk. His other son, Yona (Hugh O’Conor), has given up his career as a lawyer to become a devout rabbi, much to Lenny’s chagrin. His third son, Danny (James Callis), is an uptight, controlling, perpetually angry, fast-paced businessman – a staunch, greedy capitalist tycoon who’s pitching a new holographic computer screen to foreign investors. His daughter, Andie (Rhona Mitra), is a militant eco-warrior fighting to stop slave mining in Africa, the kind that yields the raw materials needed for products like cell phones, computers, and holographic projectors. She and Danny are the most argumentative of the four, and are constantly at each other’s throats.
Gran realizes that her grandchildren are a handful, but she insists on going through with the reunion, and even sees to it that their childhood home is restored for the occasion. The plot synopsis on the film’s official website refers to her actions as emotional blackmail, which I believe is a cruel misreading of her character. As a resident of a retirement home – and, more compellingly, as a holocaust survivor – she has seen her fair share of suffering and death. All she wants is to be surrounded by the people she loves, preferably while she’s still alive. This is not emotional blackmail. It’s a request that, quite frankly, would benefit not only her but also her family. Lenny initially doesn’t see things the same way she does, but that doesn’t make him a bad father. It just means that he has some maturing to do.
The film occasionally goes too far with its depictions of Lenny’s children, who for the most part are reduced to caricatureish simplifications, as if the intention was to parody them. Rather than try for something more compelling, we initially see them at their worst and/or most ridiculous. There’s Yona with his constant quoting from the Torah, Clarity with his exaggerated new age proverbs, Danny with his cold professionalism, and Andie with her confrontational liberal agenda. As the film progresses, however, a few of the layers are finally peeled back. The single best scene takes place between Danny and his young son, Jake (Theo Stevenson). Danny, at last beginning to realize he doesn’t spend enough time with his son, tries to buy his affections by giving him a wrapped digital watch. Jake solemnly asks how much his father makes per hour. “Around 300,” Danny replies. Jake then empties the contents of his piggy bank on his bed and does some quick mental math. “Can you give me eight minutes?” he asks.
And then there’s the ending – which, strangely enough, is what I started this review with. Without giving anything away, I will say that it involves two emotional contrivances that are polar opposites. In this case, this isn’t a criticism so much as it is a simple observation. As much as some of us might complain about lack of plausibility or psychological manipulation in the movies, the truth is that they make endings like this because we enjoy them. Filmmakers understand that they appeal to our need for resolution, hope, and yes, even happiness. And besides, who’s to say life doesn’t work this way? That’s a pretty broad generalization, if you ask me. If there’s anything to take away from Reuniting the Rubins, it’s that sometimes, it does work out.
Written by Chris Pandolfi