Director: Jason Winer
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner
Duration: 110 mins
With half the planet getting sucked into a financial sinkhole, Hollywood stays tasteful as always with a remake of 1981’s Arthur, the tale of an inheritance billionaire who spends like its going out of fashion (which it is). Russell Brand, in the titular role, has to decide between a loveless marriage or giving up his care-free life and immense fortune to be with the girl of his dreams. I’m sure we can all relate.
However, economic inappropriateness is just one of the many issues plaguing the film. The script is limp and is a poor vehicle for Brand’s comedic sensibilities. As a result the movie is terribly unfunny, with a lack of cleverness or subtlety resulting in jokes regularly being over explained. This is one of the comedian’s weakest parts to date and will undoubtedly fuel the debate as to his suitability for leading roles of any kind. The success of this film rests heavily on Arthur being a charming and likeable character, yet his childishness, irresponsibility and overall ineptitude are plain frustrating to behold. The characterization is also uneven; Arthur sporadically sways from uninhibited sex-pest to immature man-child with an abandon that unwittingly raises the question: is the character simply mentally ill?
The mostly female support cast nearly all fall somewhere between ‘uneven’ and ‘2-dimensional’. Greta Gurwig plays the predictably kind and quirky object of Arthur’s affection. The character essentially feels plagiarised from a catalogue of cookie cutter love interests, so much so that it’s hard to think of her as a person rather than a walking talking cliché. Jennifer Garner, as the vicious and ambitious fiancé Susan, is utterly one note. Injecting an iota of class into the proceedings, Helen Mirren plays Arthur’s nanny, Hobson and is easily the most interesting and complex character in the film. Unfortunately, symptomatic of the poor writing, nearly every character in the film suffers from an inexplicable ‘sudden change of heart syndrome’, and Hobson is no exception.
Arthur has another major problem beyond its flat characters. With all the film’s stakes and tension wrapped up in the ‘will Arthur will sacrifice his fortune?’ question, the film really feels like a drawn out waiting game until we are finally presented with an obvious answer. This weak structure isn’t helped by the fact that Arthur’s dependence on his fortune simply feels shallow, and his attempts to get by in the real world are utterly half-hearted. A stepfather – played by a scenery chewing Nick Nolte – is wheeled out to coerce him into the arranged marriage, but he feels entirely unthreatening when you consider Arthur’s wealth and power. The movie does make a last ditch attempt to paint Arthur’s constant drinking as a serious issue, but by this point it’s already presented it as an integral part of his enviably glamorous lifestyle.
In the final half hour, the movie develops a little more weight and actually becomes quite watchable. Unfortunately it can’t sustain even this brief period of quality and departs on a sour note with a frustrating, cop-out ending. Arthur is not a terrible film, it’s just not a very likeable one. It makes a lacklustre effort to be a morality play about excessive drinking and spending, but in the end it unwittingly does a better job of romanticizing these vices. Setting aside the mixed message, the film is still hollow, bland and unfunny. Even if you have money to burn, Arthur is tough to recommend.