Arthur

There’s a scene where an upset Naomi confronts Arthur and says that he’s never felt what it’s like to earn something. The movie is guilty of doing the same thing.

Arthur (Russell Brand) is a billionaire playboy (emphasis on “boy”) who has never worked a day in his life and spends his time drinking copious amounts of alcohol and spending money shamelessly on ostentatious objects he has no interest in. His long-suffering nanny Hobson (played by the always excellent Helen Mirren) tends to his every need and scorns the shallow women he surrounds himself with. Spoiler: her prickly manner hides a tender love for Arthur – what, like that’s a surprise?

Arthur’s carefree lifestyle damages the reputation and stock price of the family business, forcing  his mother to make an ultimatum: either marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), a responsible and capable woman he doesn’t love, or be cut off forever. Naturally, Arthur isn’t pleased. Like a spoiled child, he doesn’t want to do anything that he doesn’t like – ignore the fact that he’s in his mid-thirties, has no useful job skills and has only contributed embarrassment and shame to his family – and you’ll feel sympathetic that he’s being pushed into a loveless marriage. Of course, while engaged to Susan he meets the supposed love of his life Naomi (Greta Gerwig, mumblecore queen and after Greenberg and this, go-to romantic interest?), an unlicensed tour guide who wears dresses that never go lower than mid-thigh.  Why he loves her is never really clear – he mentions her spontaneity as a reason but it’s delivered more like: this is who the script told me I should be with.

Brand is a really funny actor with great delivery and improvised lines (a scene where he sings songs during a baby shower is particularly memorable), but the role of Arthur requires sincerity and vulnerability – two emotions he isn’t able to bring across. Every line he delivers sounds like a punchline, even the ones that aren’t supposed to be. He compliments Greta’s rough draft of her children’s book with wide maniacal eyes and the assertion that it’s really good. No, like really, it’s really good. It’s a scene that needed Brand to read Greta’s draft and pause in silence and contemplate what he’s read before praising her work. But Arthur doesn’t give him a chance to breathe. He picks up the draft, reads the first line aloud, turns without thinking about what he’s read or reading any further, and then exclaims that she’s a really good writer and should give up her job to pursue it full-time. It ends up feeling false when this should be the moment we realize Arthur has a real connection with this girl.

Any moments of dramatic heft are also quickly defused by a quick quip or scattershot focus. In one sequence, Hobson and Arthur attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting so he’ll be able to tone his drinking down. Arthur scoffs at one of the AA members sharing a story of alcohol abuse and turns to leave the room because it’s “boring.” That’s when Hobson stands up and delivers a speech that mirrors the problems Arthur is dealing with. God bless Helen Mirren for delivering the dialogue with such conviction that it actually becomes meaningful, but any hopes that the rest of the film will be are quickly dashed when Brand makes a quick joke. Arthur hasn’t learned anything from Hobson’s speech.

The most irritating scene of the film is when Arthur’s mother realizes that Susan is an awful human being and that Arthur shouldn’t be forced into marrying her. I’ll just do a quick outline of the reason why she wanted Arthur to marry Susan and the reason why she doesn’t want Arthur to marry Susan anymore:

Why She Wants Arthur to Marry Susan: “Arthur, our investors need a Bach (the family’s last name) to carry on the family business to feel secure. You are the sole heir, and your wild and crazy antics don’t inspire confidence. That’s why you should marry Susan, because then she will become a Bach and she is a competent and capable woman who will assuage the fears of investors and let you continue to enjoy an unimpeded lifestyle.”

Why She Doesn’t Want Arthur to Marry Susan: (After watching Susan punch Arthur and tell him they should be married because then she will be a Bach and run the family business) “Arthur, you’re right. She’s a monster.

Please, explain the logic of that for me.

This is Arthur's serious face.

The film, like it’s titular character, doesn’t earn it’s drama or laughs. It goes for cheap, forgettable gags that have no narrative interest and sweeps under the rug any sequences that could be deserving of the audience’s sympathy (Arthur is an alcoholic but you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the scenes when he’s drunk and the one’s where he’s sober). Arthur doesn’t hit rock bottom, he doesn’t learn or come to terms with his problems or his life, and he only makes half-hearted attempts at redemption (he doesn’t apply for a job until late in the second act of the movie – and that’s only for about two scenes). This is supposed to be the story of man-child growing up, but he isn’t given much (or any) growing up to do.

Despite all this, Arthur is a funny film. There are some great lines and scenes, but it’s really shallow. For a film about a vapid, spoiled, and self-involved protagonist should we have expected anything else?

C

Note: Arthur comes out Friday, April 8th.

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2 Responses to Arthur

  1. julia Turnbull says:

    I guess this film is off of my list!!

  2. Pingback: Sydney’s Secret Pin Up Survey | Sydney Mum

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