For some reason, I have a vivid memory of a Saturday afternoon spent on the couch with my family watching Arthur (1981), starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli, on cable. It’s hard to say whether I was more excited or nervous about the release of a remake of such a good movie.
Arthur (Russell Brand) is the ridiculously wealthy, perpetually intoxicated heir to his family’s trust. He spends most of his time getting into trouble pulling stunts like dressing up as Batman or rerouting commuter trains so he can have a date. He’s taken care of by his devoted and dry-witted nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren), and served loyally by his half-witted driver, Bitterman (Luis Guzman). Arthur would be happy to continue partying his days away, but his cold, estranged mother (Geraldine James) insists that he marry one of the top executives in the company, Susan (Jennifer Garner). Arthur reluctantly agrees, but when he meets and falls in love with Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an unlicensed tour guide and aspiring children’s book author, he has to choose between keeping his inheritance or following his heart.
With any remake of an already good film I have to wonder why bother? If it ain’t broke…With Arthur, however, I suspect the economy may be the reason. The film’s tag line invites audiences to “Meet the world’s only lovable billionaire” and when the budget is tight for just about everyone, maybe it just feels good to live vicariously as Arthur gives money away and spares no expense to make others laugh. On the other hand, a story is reassuring when the protagonists assert that they’d give up all their wealth for love or that nothing feels as good as earning their own success.
Judging this version of Arthur on its own, I actually laughed a lot harder than I thought I would. The movie has a playful tone and Arthur’s “floorshow,” as Hobson puts it, is fun to watch. Brand is both delightfully weird and surprisingly loveable. His performance also hints at the pain Arthur is actually afraid to acknowledge. The dynamic between Brand and Mirren is easily the best part of the movie. Mirren’s Hobson delivers biting one-liners throughout, but also provides grounded love balancing out Arthur’s spectacular demonstrations of affection. As Naomi, Gerwig is sweet and funny and it’s easy to see why Arthur believes she’s his soulmate and why even Hobson begrudgingly likes her. As evil, manipulative Susan, Garner makes a departure from her usual roles, but at times her performance comes off a bit over-the-top, which should have been impossible opposite Brand.
Towards the middle, Arthur’s antics do get a little tiresome and I was anxious for him to get down to dealing with the serious issues before him. Also, there are so many moments that seem like they’ll be the climactic moment in which Arthur gets the girl, the pace of the film got a little bumpy. When that climactic scene finally does arrive, it falls flat. There are a couple of cute lines, delivered by precocious children, but mostly the scene is corny and unimpressive.
Arthur is laugh-out-loud funny, sweet, and enjoyable, even if many of its best moments are born of sheer idiocy. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.
Arthur was directed by Jason Winer and written by Peter Baynham, based upon the film of the same name by Steve Gordon. It runs 110 minutes and is rated PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references.