Arthur Directed by: Jason Winer Cast: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig Running Time: 1 hr 45 min Rating: PG-13 Release Date: April 8, 2011
PLOT: Arthur (Brand) is a free-spirited, irresponsible heir to a billion-dollar company who'd rather drink and play than deal with reality. In an effort to curtail his wildness, his family forces him into an engagement with Susan (Garner), a savvy but unlovable businesswoman. When Arthur falls in love with inspiring writer, Naomi (Gerwig), his family threatens to cut him off from the money.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of the 1981 original starring Dudley Moore will either appreciate this more enlightened version or feel like the first movie got trampled and left for dead.
EXPECTATIONS: I love Russell Brand. I've read both his books - which I recommend to anyone of age - and I adore him in all of his movies. When I heard he was playing Arthur, I wet myself a little. My expectations were probably higher than they should have been.
Russell Brand as Arthur: Brand makes this movie. If anyone else played Arthur, this movie wouldn't be close to as entertaining. And here's the rub: it's because Brand gets to ad lib. He's a comic and naturally a very quick, pithy person, so he can wing it if he has to, and it feels, in Arthur, like he often has to. Every scene of his resounds like he's doing it on the fly, because the script isn't as smart as he is. This is not a good thing. It means Brand is the entire movie and the whole reason for this movie even existing. If you don't like him or are on the fence about him, you probably won't enjoy yourself. Score: 8
Helen Mirren as Hobson: Mirren is a delightful twist to the original story. In the first Arthur, Hobson was played by John Gielgud, which naturally made the dynamic between Arthur and Hobson more son/father. Mirren is just as proud, but the gender switch turns the original dynamic on its ear. She and Brand have fantastic chemistry together. Again, that's not because of the script; it's because they are very good pals in real life and they're both intelligent people. The movie itself is disoriented and semi-unconscious, so without these two actors it would have been a huge, dull waste of time. Score: 8
Greta Gerwig as Naomi: Naomi is the most flagrantly contrived character I've seen in a long time. First of all, she's adorable in that impossibly whimsical, when-you-wish-upon-a-star, kind of way. She takes people on a tour of New York without a touring license...just because she loves the city so darned much! Awwww. She tours Grand Central Station and has the tourists lie on the floor – forgoing all concerns about the mounds of teeming bacteria – so that they can admire the constellations set into the ceiling. Awwww. But that's not her true heart's desire; what she really wants to do is build a franchise of Bondage-themed strip clubs. Of course I'm kidding! She wants to write children's books and continue being so cute and unrealistic that you gag a little whenever she's on screen. The bondage strip clubs would have been more interesting. Score: 4
Jennifer Garner as Susan: Garner updates the role of Susan with fantastically cold and calculating verve. She plays the character as all sharp edges and it's easy to see why the character of Arthur would dislike and distrust this person, despite her beauty. The biggest problem with Garner's performance is Brand; their frosty dynamic would have been much more enjoyable had Brand not blabbed to everyone how Garner's lips are like “red velvet cake” and whenever they're in a scene together he's visibly besotted with her. Oops! He has more sexual chemistry with Garner than he does with Gerwig, so Arthur's protestations regarding Susan ring hollow. Score: 7
TALKING: How to score the dialogue when you feel like your favorite lines were Brand's talent for ad-libbing? Tough one. As much as I liked everything that came out of Brand's mouth and the other characters had a few choice lines, I can't give the script much credit. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Aside from one semi-original scene in which a grieving Arthur walks in drunken slow-mo through a frenetic haze of party-goers, it's all pretty straightforward. The magnetic bed is interesting without being noteworthy and the Grand Central Station romance scenes were merely irritating (really? You're going to shut down one of the busiest commuter hubs in the world so you and your date can eat Pez? Not cool, man). In fact, at times the movie seems disoriented, like it isn't really sure what it wants to do from one scene to the next. Score: 4
SOUNDS: The soundtrack seeks to add to Arthur's playful, unpredictability with an opening updated theme song using xylophones. We get your standard "gleeful shenanigans" music whenever Arthur is cavorting about, "isn't she the cutest?" acoustics for Naomi, and "here comes the goofy conflict" when Susan has Arthur in a corner. At times, like the rest of the movie, the soundtrack sounds like something you'd hear in an 80's romcom, but perhaps that's a tip of the hat to the original. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: I'm going to have to go purely sentimental and say when Arthur starts taking care of Hobson. That entire sequence is really touching and it maintains its integrity. By that I mean it doesn't seek to rip your heart of your chest and stomp on you until you're left only with sad music and the sound of your own whimpering.
ENDING: Surprisingly retro and not in a good way. It's the sort of cheesy, supposed "crowd pleaser" ending that you find in 80's rom-coms. Again, that's probably a misguided attempt at homage.
QUESTIONS: Why would Arthur suddenly fall for Naomi? Her hair is the color of buttercups and she looks like she's just getting over a bout with the flu, so it can't just be aesthetics.
REWATCHABILITY: Nah. It's mildly enjoyable the first time, especially since I didn't have to fork over twelve bucks. I'm not even sure I'd want to rent it. I'm much more likely to watch the original.
The modernized Arthur has its heart in the right place; it has good intentions. It updates the relationship between Naomi and Arthur so that Naomi isn't forced to take care of this unrelenting man-infant, and it sticks Arthur in AA. Whereas the original story enables Arthur to remain a carefree drunkard forever, the 2011 version is much more responsible. It's also not as charming, which is weird to say. Casting Brand as Arthur was perfect and then topping that off with Mirren as Hobson...movie nirvana. Unfortunately the rest of the movie can't quite keep up with them.
It feels a bit slopped together. If the script and the direction matched the chemistry between Brand and Mirren, we would have had ourselves a real party. Instead it's merely so-so. Since the idea itself was brimming with potential, the fact that they couldn't quite live up to it is disappointing.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10