Arthur Directed by: Jason Winer Cast: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: April 8, 2011
PLOT: A billionaire (Brand) must decide between money or love when his mother threatens to cut him off from his inheritance should he not marry the woman (Garner) chosen for him.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Those who fell for the charm of Arthur circa. 1981 won’t see much of reason (if any) for this remake, but newcomers to the story will enjoy the sharp humor and slurry slapstick that also features Brand’s first likable performance.
EXPECTATIONS: The original has a special place in my heart, so I was certainly skeptical of how good a remake could possibly be.
Russell Brand as Arthur: It’s not an impersonation, but a culturally comfortable re-do that fits to Brand’s talents. Unlike Dudley Moore’s version of the title character, he doesn’t reek of alcohol. Instead, he just maintains an “edgy” buzz while takes swigs from his flask, in between resembling something that Brand can do quite well – be a quick, sloppy idiot. Brand’s sloppiness works to his advantage here, and doesn’t become like an obnoxious force such as in the overrated Get Him To The Greek. Brand’s juvenile accessibility works better here than it does Hop, and it makes him a bit endearing (until his romantic angle throws the movie’s balance of sweetness way off proportion). Playing to his strengths, Brand has finally found a character that can be in-your-face, but also not appear as if we can't have any fun with him either. Score: 6
Helen Mirren as Hobson: They are big shoes to fill, but Mirren steps into them with the impact one would except an actress of her stature to have. Maintaining a stiff backbone and a sharp edge, she has the same aggressive sarcasm that made the once-mother-figure-now-just-mother character work so well. Her chemistry with Brand is relatively successful, and her strange bear fetish is secretly hilarious. Score: 6
Jennifer Garner as Susan: She's a good sport here, making herself out to be a pretty unlikable human being on the inside and out. Garner offers up a few chuckles in her opportune moments of sexy slapstick. It's at least funny for a character constructed from cardboard. Score: 5
Greta Gerwig as Naomi: She just wants to eat her Spaghetti-Os, give whimsical illegal tours of Grand Central Station, and write her children's book. Ain't she sweet? While the alcohol content of this Arthur is pretty tame, the sugar levels of Gerwig's supposed adorability could kill someone. For this we must blame Naomi, whose juvenile characteristics are confused for being spunky. Gerwig isn't someone to fall for here, despite her disarming Plain Jane-ness. Instead, she's falsely made to be classically adorable like a ten-year-old whose eyes are brightened by candy stores. Yuck - no thanks. Score: 2
TALKING: Everyone's pretty sharp in Arthur, thanks to a reasonably reliable amount of dialogue that's pumped with sarcasm, and is never afraid to make anyone the joke's butt (Garner's "sexy clown mouth" gets a mention, for example). When the movie deals with romantic interactions, the witty repartee between Arthur and Naomi further reminds the audience as to how artificial the relationship is. Though it wants to be a coupling created by honesty, it's still the way people talk in movies, and nowhere else. Especially not in real life. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Arthur receives a small dose of charm with its usage of New York City scenery. Still, these places aren't very fresh for Hollywood's love affair with New York. Landmarks like the New York Public Library, Central Park, and Wall Street are very familiar; even Arthur's sprucing down of Grand Central Station isn't as spectacular as it could have been (instead, it feels overly extreme). Score: 5
SOUNDS: Often utilizing alternative strings and xylophones, the score seems more fit for a low budget romantic comedy, not a film about "the world's only lovable billionaire." Since having Greta Gerwig followed around by a guitar-strumming Ben Gibbard would be confusing to moviegoers (after all, Gibbard's got Zooey Deschanel to do that for), Arthur does the next best thing - it heightens the twee-ness of Gerwig by having light acoustic guitars accompany her presence, as if they were a part of her gastronomic process. Gibbard himself has at least two montage tunes that play during the "nobody's happy now" scenes. Fitz and the Tantrums cover the Oscar-winning Christopher Cross song "The Best That You Can Do," and lose the song's timeless power with their slower rendition. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: The introduction of Arthur and Hobson's relationship, which has Hobson picking up after the man-boy after a typical night of fraternizing, is probably the funniest scene in the film.
ENDING: The ending still doesn't sit well with me as the most logically reasonable. Would Arthur's mom really do that?
QUESTIONS: Does Greta Gerwig's character shop at American Apparel, or the Salvation Army?
REWATCHABILITY: Though I enjoyed the movie, it's not one that I am dying to catch another viewing of. However, I'm constantly flirting with the idea of watching my copy (well, I stole it from my dad) of the original.
Here’s a moment in our pop culture’s zombie obsession that actually makes a bit of sense. Probably more than ever before, our society truly believes in buzz-drunk love, (Knocked Up, for just one example) and it’s a hot concept for people that were once dead to strive for immortality by walking again. Even if it is thirty years later, and we’re in an age when movies about Wall Street don’t even make big business, a movie that treats money like magic like Arthur did should be an easy winner in our time.
Arthur exhumes the bones of the original movie, hoping to re-animate the charm of the original. Though the film is moderately funny, it’s only slightly less than half successful of attaining the same charm of the original. Here – the romance is insincere, and further indicative of how the quirkiness in romantic comedies has taken a wrong turn for the twee. For romantic gestures between Arthur and his true love, we get Spaghetti-O’s, children’s books, and even a wall in Grand Central Station. Sans “Anyone Else But You” by The Moldy Peaches as featured on the Juno soundtrack, Arthur starts to force itself into unoriginal lands to fit in awkwardly with indie comedies, or at least comedies that “look” “indie.”
Regrettably, the movie is then imbalanced with its mellow angles, pushing the film’s heart far to the other side of emotions. Packing in at least three, “Oh, Isn’t Everything So Sad” montages, Arthur kicks up the sadness in the third act. The film aggressively forces Russell Brand into a realm of sadness, of which he isn’t capable of doing. (Cate Blanchett should’ve come in a la I’m Not There and done this moment for him.) When he takes one of the montages to mope around, we start hoping it’ll just cut out, and he’l bust into a joke. Or trip. Or sh*t jellybeans like he did last week in Hop. Just anything! This sorrow sandwich turn drags the story beyond the amount its fit to be, and adds a brief surge to the longing to just rewatch the original.
All comparisons favoring the original are difficult to prove wrong – the more you stand 1981 Arthur to 2011 Arthur, the more that this version starts to look automatic and weak. Especially when considering the many special elements that make the original Arthur more than just a story of a lovable drunk: Dudley Moore’s contagious giggles and self-amusement, John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance, and even Christopher Cross’ heartfelt theme song, as written by Burt Bacharach. Yet Brand has a name for quick idiot comedy, and he truly shows it here, with sharp chemistry with the more immediately affable Helen Mirren. On top of that, no one else could give a fair shot at re-doing Dudley Moore even worth it like Brand, who was bound to play this role or a rip-off of this role sooner or later. For a remake of Arthur, a special kind of classic, it’s the best you can do.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10