Review: Reuniting the Rubins (12A) ***

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Movies about dysfunctional families are two-a-penny; this one is a very funny farce with Timothy Spall at its core as Lenny Rubin, a bumbling retired lawyer with his eye on a dream cruise.

He neglects to factor in his demanding mother, the ageing matriarch of the Rubin clan (played with a deft knack for comedy by Honor Blackman) who has her own plans: to reunite Lenny’s various estranged adult offspring. Reluctantly, Lenny abandons the cruise to deal with mum and her final wish: she thinks she’s dying.

Faced with rounding up his children – Rhona Mitra, Hugh O’Conor, James Callis, Asier Newman – Lenny realises that his mother’s quest is really also his own. There are some pretty miserable characters in this, the debut feature from Yoav Factor, a graduate of the Northern Film School in Leeds. And while any film of this type is going to collide heavily with stereotype and caricature, Factor manages to avoid much of it.

In a tradition that would make Ray Cooney proud, Factor draws together the disparate threads of his plot to bring home Mitra, a doctor, from the Congo, separate hard-nosed executive Callis from his mobile phone, draw convert Newman from a Buddhist commune and welcome youngest son O’Conor, a rabbi, back to the home he has rejected.

As the head of the family Spall is superb. He has used that wonderfully lugubrious, crumpled look in so many of his films and as the harassed, put-upon father of warring siblings, not to mention his quietly dragon-like mother, who treats him the same as she did when he was 16, he shines.

In creating the Rubins’ story, Factor was keen to present Reuniting the Rubins as a universal tale of family travails. It’s not a “Jewish” story. Instead the sharp observations point to a universal story with (mainly) wholly credible characters. Only the inclusion of Rabbi Yona (O’Conor) hints at caricature, but then he’s more concerned with his pregnant wife than his deeply held traditionalist religious views.

This is a gently moving portrait of a modern family struggling with its various personalities, histories and long-buried animosities. It is poignant, moving and affecting, proving that people are people no matter who they are or where they live.