REVIEW: Arthur [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 110 minutes | Release Date: April 8th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Jason Winer
Writer(s): Peter Baynham / Steve Gordon (story)

“A savant-like gift of defying death with fun”

Having been a child during the 80s, Dudley Moore will always be Patch, the elf that saved Christmas in Santa Claus [The Movie]. I had seen Arthur, and probably Arthur 2: On the Rocks—they were PG after all, even though my parents could have done better than allow me to possibly cultivate an alcoholic as a role model—but I can admittedly remember very little besides the nondescript plot synopsis available on any movie site. So, while I didn’t really have any attachment to the character or Moore’s performance, I still thought it crass to allow a non-actor, albeit often times hilarious, like Russell Brand to take up the mantle and remake a contemporary classic. I’d never assume serious fans of the original to agree with me now, but after seeing this new reincarnation, I’m hard-pressed not to say Brand was born to be Arthur. The film is redundant, obvious, clichéd, and ham-fisted, and yet I enjoyed almost every second of it. Once I got past its utter lack of necessity, I was able to somehow care about this drunken playboy. Yes, it surprised the hell out of me too.

Say its sacrilege, say Brand is a hack—at any other time I’d not only agree with you, but probably even initiate the sentiments. However, the only real travesty “Modern Family” veteran Jason Winer’s debut feature contains is the unacceptable shove to the background the marketing team gave Greta Gerwig. Playing Naomi, the innocent, spontaneous, smart, and adorably sarcastic love interest for Arthur, she once more steals audience’s hearts and souls with the unparalleled authenticity I first saw in Greenberg. With the philandering child that is Brand’s titular buffoon, someone is necessary to temper the sheer absurdity of such a relentless case of consequence-free living. Helen Mirren, as his nanny and spiritual guide, is the voice of reason and the only matriarchal figure he will half-listen to, but she can never be the inspiration able to turn his life around and become a real human being. That job is Gerwig’s and she shines in her duties. Naomi is down-to-earth enough to look beyond this man’s billions; self-deprecating enough deal with his nonsense and throw a few barbs herself; and quite simply the only person worthy of even a modicum of happiness. And she can’t even crack the poster.

It’s understood, though, as I’m sure most reading this are thinking, “why’d he just devote a paragraph to a woman I’ve never heard of?” Well, it’s because you should know her, and I’ll bet you will soon. For now, however, she must wait in the shadows while the name recognition of Jennifer Garner gets butts in the seats. Portraying Susan, the woman Arthur’s mother has tasked him to marry unless he forsakes his entire inheritance, Garner is the epitome of bitch. Playing the sexy professional, her drive to be a success destroys any chance of finding a relationship based on anything else but utility. With the stubborn machismo of her father—a gruff as ever Nick Nolte—and a lack of feminine wiles to suppress it, Garner becomes the perfect villain for the tale. No matter how misguided a vision of her son Vivienne Bach (Geraldine James) may have, it’s the bride-to-be who allows the blackmailing charade to occur, uncaring of the prison she is willingly erecting around him. She’s the perfect candidate to takeover the most lucrative trust in the nation, but completely unsuitable for matrimony, especially when held against Gerwig.

So, yes, to wrap those character studies into something resembling a plot summary: Arthur is in the position to inherit a company he doesn’t have the means to lead. In order to then keep the money, he must marry his mother’s trusty sidekick, Susan, who will use his name to carry the corporation into the future. Once he shamelessly acquiesces to the threat, however, Arthur serendipitously runs into the girl of his dreams, a young woman he could love without ever becoming bored. Expensive and fun shenanigans ensue as he tries to hide the one from the other and battle his want for happiness against his want for happiness. It’s money and the drink or love—a choice much harder for him then it should. Friend and chauffeur Bitterman (Luis Guzman) isn’t much of an ear to lean on and Mirren’s Hobson, (yes, the great John Gielgud has had his role gender-swapped), is at first too motherly to allow a poor girl from Queens to risk ruining her ward’s chances of surviving the only way he’s ever known—spending like crazy and not caring that his image is barely worth the paper his cash is printed on.

It’s a romantic comedy, though, so expect saccharine moments and moral changes of heart. Just don’t think the mundane plot won’t still find itself to be refreshingly funny. It isn’t even a case where I must mention supporting roles as the cause for the jokes. Mirren and Gerwig are a big part of the laughs with their ability to feign seriousness as they partake in the wildness, but Brand is who delivers from start to finish with his snide, impeccably timed wit. Between a funnier than it deserves nail gun gag, a joke from it concerning Jesus, the cute factor of custom Pez dispensers, and his handling of a floor full of precocious little kids, the jokes hit their mark. Much of it does because Brand is impressively endearing in his performance, something I can’t say I ever thought would be possible. One-note comic relief—sure, that’s what he has as his resume job description. Three-dimensional in a role that begs to be anything but—that actually takes talent and perhaps this usually obnoxious Brit has a little after all. I was enraptured by his jokes—credit to screenwriter Peter Baynham—and hopeful his love triangle would work itself out, if only for Gerwig’s sake.

[1] (L-R) RUSSELL BRAND as Arthur and HELEN MIRREN as Hobson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ romantic comedy “ARTHUR,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Barry Wetcher
[2] GRETA GERWIG as Naomi in Warner Bros. Pictures’ romantic comedy “ARTHUR,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Barry Wetcher
[3] JENNIFER GARNER in Warner Bros. Pictures’ romantic comedy “ARTHUR,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Barry Wetcher

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