For a little while, Reuniting the Rubins promises to be a potentially charming trifle. The premise, familiarity incarnate, follows a harried middle-aged man’s attempts to satisfy his fragile mother’s wish that he bring his eccentric bickering children together under the roof of their old home for one last stab at establishing some sort of familial affection among them—a pretense that everyone involved discarded long ago. The children, most of whom have grown up to become successful but self-regarding terrors, represent the kinds of broad stereotypes of social classes that are almost inevitable in a family dramedy: the narcissistic businessman, the crusading reporter, a born-again Rabbi, and so on. We know our hero will bring his children together after some wacky escapades, which will eventually lead, theoretically, to a good audience cry as everyone on screen exchanges platitudes about the importance of family and delicacy of life.
The opening duets between mother and son imply that the film will realize its modest aims, but that’s because the mother and son are played by Honor Blackman and Timothy Spall, good and great actors, respectively, who somehow manage to lend subtext to a plain, obvious script that wouldn’t allow for much nuance in the hands of less-talented performers. Blackman, once the iconic Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, delivers a number of her lines with a curt, surprisingly unsentimental snap that speaks of an aging woman fed up with condescending youthful nonsense. Spall, amazing in Mike Leigh’s brilliant All or Nothing, establishes his character’s grief, misery, and, yes, bitterness with his expressively shambling gait, and even by the way he tentatively sits in one of his son’s pretentious overpriced chairs.
But the quite-capable actors playing the assorted children aren’t able to work similar wonders. As the ruthless capitalist, James Callis is stuck in a role and a character arc that are just too obvious to do anything with. As the crusading reporter, Rhona Mitra, a gorgeous, talented actress often stuck in action claptrap, has a few touching gestures here and there, but she’s playing a plot device as opposed to a character. And the remaining children, two men of differing religions, are barely in the movie.
The actors are stranded because writer-director Yoav Factor can’t decide whether he wants to play his broad scenario as an exaggerated farce or as a heartwarming testament to blood ties, and those warring impulses cancel one another out and leave one with something that barely feels like a movie. And the pace is also fatally off: Expendable scenes go on forever while moments of seeming import flash by so fast as to occasionally leave one confused as to what’s actually going on, and the result is a film that feels very long at 97 minutes. If I can pay Reuniting the Rubins any other compliment it’s this: It reminded me to revisit the similarly themed, and incomparably superior Summer Hours, and any film that leads one back to Summer Hours can’t be all bad.