TIFF2012: Arthur Newman

Colin Firth and Emily Blunt in "Arthur Newman."

Colin Firth and Emily Blunt in “Arthur Newman.”

There’s one moment I really liked in Arthur Newman. The main character discards his old identity to start life afresh as an alleged golf pro. Except it’s not that easy to erase the past – there’s always Google, as another character points out. A new life, thwarted by the technological resurrection of the old one.

Arthur Newman is a movie I walked into completely blind. There are no trailers of the film. At the time I checked, there was no poster, no images from the set, and no clips. I didn’t even choose the film for myself; the festival package I bought had all the films selected by staff. It’s one of the only times in recent memory where I walked into a theatre not knowing what to expect. Of course, I scoured the Internet beforehand, trying to find anything about the film, without luck besides a short synopsis: “Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) is a depressed Dad who abandons everything to take on a new life as Arthur Newman, bumping into Mike (Emily Blunt) who is also trying to escape her identity.”

What’s strange about the whole experience was it made me realize how dependent I (we?) are on information for our entertainment choices. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to see a movie based on title alone, and the two-hour running time of actually watching a feature film is often the equivalent amount of time I’ve spent researching it (I’m looking at you The Dark Knight Rises, where every twist had already been correctly verified based on casting announcements alone, unfortunately lessening the actual theatrical experience). That’s one of the beauties about TIFF – you generally only have a paragraph synopsis to rely upon. The actual film remains a mystery.

With that positive reflection out of the way, Arthur Newman is a meandering, awkward, eye-rolling mess. Mainly because the events that occur in the film happen in the most contrived manner possible (a key scene involves Firth and Blunt talking at a Greyhound stop when a bus rolls in and the driver literally drops a dying man in front of them). It commits the worst flaw of indie-itis: piling quirk after quirk and smugly nudging the audience to realize just how clever it all is.

If I went into Arthur Newman knowing nothing, I left it knowing a lot less. The motivations of the characters are fairly obscure and weakly explained. Firth’s character has the more promising backstory (amateur golfer who choked in an important match) but it’s never fully explored and feels more like a checklist of “this is an injured man” rather than any explanation of what exactly changed him in the first place. In place of what could’ve been an interesting character study, the film is instead a road-trip movie with emotion-filled motel confessions punctuated by home invasions, creepy sexual escapades (between Colin Firth and Emily Blunt mind you), and the folks at home hardly caring if Firth’s character is actually dead or not. It’s a lot more exciting than it sounds.

For a film about starting life with a new identity, Arthur Newman sure doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Grade: D+

Sidenote: Colin Firth is cast as an American, meaning that one of his greatest assets – his droll British accent – is replaced by forgettable North American pronunciation. Ditto for Emily Blunt (though she isn’t as known for her accent as Firth). It just seemed a strange choice to cast two British actors to not play British. That’s acting, I guess.

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