D: Jason Winer. DP: Uta Briesewitz. W: Peter Baynham. Starring: Russell Brand/Helen Mirren/Jennifer Gardner/Greta Gerwig/Geraldine James/Luis Guzman/Nick Nolte. (NOTE: Based on Steve Gordan’s 1981 film of the same name starring Dudley Moore.)
Luckily I was able to snag the original Arthur film before I sat down to the remake over the weekend. Lucky because the original by far beat out the new film in charm and delight, but is that really surprising?
With most of the good laughs already highlighted in the trailer, Arthur relies heavily on Russell Brand’s awkward machismo, physical comedy, and that air of Britishness he still partially processes to keep its audience’s attention. Brand’s Arthur is just as drunk as Dudley’s but seems to have an even more childlike frame of mind. Dudley’s thing was trains, Brand’s is telescopes and magnetic beds. Obviously, since the toys have to be updated, why not update the story as well?
In the new film, Arthur is being pushed into marriage by his mother (played by James), rather than his father and is taken care of by a nanny (Mirren) rather than a Butler (Sir John Gielgud). This simple change of gender, alters the chemistry of the film’s characters. Arthur now is without any male figure in his life (his chauffeur does not count), allowing his silliness to be even more embellished. He is taken care of in a more literal sense by Mirren, she bates him and loves him in the way she is allowed. While Gielgud made it seem he was just cleaning up after Arthur, keeping him in check. Of course, Mirren is good at almost anything she does, this being no exception. This change also affords Jennifer Gardner, playing Arthur’s fiance Susan, a chance to be more aggressive and play a larger role in Bland’s desire to give up his money and marry for love. Gardner works hard here, but there is still not much humor to have in a plot about marriage as a business arrangement, it is a bit stale.
Darling and sweet, Gerwig is probably the most refreshing part of the film. Much like her predecessor, Liza Minnelli, her Naomi is spunky and full of light with all the right quirks and understandings for Arthur. However, she is not enough to save a film burdened by loosing most its laughs before the films even begins. Those laughs are also not well balanced enough with the rest of the story, giving the third act and ending hardly much punch. And sure the toys are great, Brand does not entirely play himself, and Manhattan looks great, but this new film brings nothing to the old Arthur, driving through the park with a Scotch in hand a prostitute on his lap.