Reuben, Reuben (1983)

Reuben, Reuben (1983)

“You have reduced me to that most contemptible of creatures — the love-sick swain!”

Gowan McGland (Tom Conti), a well-known but penniless Scottish poet, ekes by on the remnants of his fame, drinks excessively, beds middle-aged housewives, and falls in love with a woman (Kelly McGillis) much younger than himself.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Studies
  • Comedy
  • Lois Smith Films
  • May-December Romance
  • Nonconformists
  • Writers
  • Womanizers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary points out, “many people will not like this film” — indeed, a reviewer for the Chicago Reader called it “the worst kind of screenwriters’ cinema.” But those who enjoy character studies should appreciate Reuben, Reuben on some level, no matter how annoyed they eventually become by Conti’s constant drinking, stealing, womanizing, and self-pitying. According to Vincent Canby of the NY Times, McGland (what a name!) “looks like the human manifestation of a hangover,” someone “who’s great fun to watch but who’d be impossible to share even a county with.” Indeed, despite McGland’s constant dire straits, there’s plenty of humor in the film: McGland’s estranged wife happily exploiting his foibles in a tell-all biography; two middle-aged women making a play for McGland under the table at a fancy restaurant… Though the film’s ending is abrupt, I found it oddly fitting — and we finally find out why Reuben (a local sheepdog absent from most of the story) gets “top billing” in the film’s title.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tom Conti’s fully realized (if not overly sympathetic) performance as Gowan McGland
  • Kelly McGillis, “radiant” in her screen debut as McGland’s lover

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.


One thought on “Reuben, Reuben (1983)

  1. Not must-see. First and last viewing. Ugh.

    A forgotten film – and it’s easy to see why. Conti has never been an engaging actor (though he’s not bad in ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’). But here he plays an insufferable bore who is also a very bad poet. His character has kinship with Ray Milland’s character in ‘The Lost Weekend’…in that he’s a writer who just shouldn’t be a writer.

    Just about every single thing that Conti’s character says is cringe-worthy for one reason or another. He’s pretty much a sorry excuse for a creative person.

    McGillis has the misfortune of playing someone who becomes enchanted with him and thinks he’s fascinating and hilarious. So what’s *her* problem?

    Directed by Robert Ellis Miller – who, 15 years earlier, did such a fine job with ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’. Miller adds nothing to the film but that’s a moot point since it has a script that makes for a thoroughly miserable viewing experience.

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