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Movie Review - Arthur (**)


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ARTHUR.  110 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Jason Winer.  Written by Peter Baynham.
Most remakes don't make a lick of sense.  Many, if not most, are pointless.  You can probably count on one hand the number of remakes that actually worked (The Departed, Dawn of the Dead, Father of the Bride, Ocean's 11, The Thing, um...).  But when I heard they were remaking 1981's Arthur, I was intrigued.  For one thing, the original Arthur, though a good comedy and an excellent star vehicle for Dudley Moore, is no classic.  For another, the cast they had assembled for the remake sounded promising.  Russell Brand as Arthur?  Perfect casting.  Switching up the butler role's gender and substituting Oscar-winning Helen Mirren in for Oscar-winning Sir John Gielgud?  Brilliant.  Finally, here was a remake that made sense.  And yet, having seen it, all I can say is: stick with the original.
The reasons I was so excited to see Brand take on the character is because I thought it suited him to a tee: boozy, immature, spoiled, rich - these are all character traits right up Brand's alley.  Anyone who has seen his star-making supporting turn in Forgetting Sarah Marshall knows that.  Brand's personal struggles with alcohol and drug addiction are well-documented, so he certainly knows a thing or two about the mind of an alcoholic.  And his stand-up act alternates between bawdy and intelligent, and is decidedly R-rated.  How disappointing then that Brand is stuck playing a child-like, PG-rated version of the character.  It's a performance dictated either by studio mandate (everyone must like you!) or by his own desire to please audiences and become a bona fide box office draw.  
But playing it safe is not the way to do that, and that's exactly what he's doing here - playing it safe.  Brand's Arthur is a one-note performance, staying at the same emotional pitch for the movie's entire running time: an overly long 110 minutes.  Arthur drags because the script isn't funny, the characters don't behave in a realistic fashion, and, let's face it, these days nobody really cares about a billionaire alcoholic learning how to face responsibility and fall in love.  Oh sure, the filmmakers throw out a casual reference to the current economic climate, so at least it's recognized, but it's a throwaway line and quickly forgotten.  A missed opportunity if you ask me, and one that would have legitimized the existence of a remake.

Arthur boasts an impressive cast of actresses, but none of them shine.  Helen Mirren isn't given much to do as Hobson, though she is nicely tart and given better material, would have been able to handle the comedic elements of the picture.  Jennifer Garner is shrill and unlikeable - purposefully so, but certainly not pleasant - as Arthur's fiance in an arranged, loveless wedding.  And indie "It" girl Greta Gerwig (who made a splash in last year's Greenberg) seems lost in a big-budget studio comedy playing the love interest (the Liza Minelli role from the original), though to be fair, I think that has more to do with the script.  She was perfectly fine, good even, in a smaller role in No Strings Attached.  Gerwig still has some potential and given the right vehicle, could become a bigger star.
Meanwhile, Brand's star is a bit tarnished now.  Arthur should have been his calling card - a one-way ticket to the A-list.  Instead, it highlighted all of his weaknesses as an actor and, by trying so hard to be likeable, he proved the exact opposite.  I think Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman wrote that the more he sees Brand in movies, the less he wants to see him.  I think that's fairly true.  Brand was terrific in Sarah Marshall, less so in Get Him to the Greek, and downright mediocre in this.  Arthur, though by no means unwatchable, is a wasted effort and, remake issues aside, a fairly blah romantic comedy.

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  • I respect your opinion, but fully disagree with your take on this film. You mention Brand is playing it safe? "Brand's Arthur is a one-note performance, staying at the same emotional pitch for the movie's entire running time: an overly long 110 minutes".

    In actuality, Brand exhibits quite a range of emotion throughout the film. As you mention, he is a struggling alcoholic, but quite brilliantly is able to display the emptiness his character feels. When he falls in love, he truly captures that emotion - contrast that with how he treats his random encounters at the beginning (i.e. the thief). And finally, honestly, how did you not feel for Arthur when he suffers the devastating loss.

    How can you take a shot at Helen Mirren in her role? Did we watch the same movie? Look, I realize movie opinions are subjective, and I can't argue to win your approval, but I was moved by her performance. Remember, I shouldn't have been moved by anyone in this film - this was supposed to be a comedy, laced with Brand-style theatrics! And here I was, in tears at several points in the movie, I'm talking tears I haven't shed since watching The Notebook!

    This film took me by complete surprise. In fact, my expectations were low, I decided to watch the movie on Saturday afternoon simply to fill in my day. If anyone is reading this, looking to watch a hilarious movie with a moving storyline, then please give this movie a chance. If anything, don't go watch this movie with "re-make" in your mind. Treat it as its own movie, independent from the previous Arthur, and judge Brand accordingly. You will be surprised!

  • In reply to Sprintmiles:

    Happy to hear it worked for you. I don't begrudge anybody's enjoyment of a movie. I think you hit it on the head though when you said you watched it on a Saturday afternoon to fill in the day. That's about all it's good for. We'll have to agree to disagree about it being "hilarious" and "moving."

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