What surprised me most about Arthur was its heart. Behind all the money wasting, alcoholism and denial, the character and the film both have a soft spot. It gets to shine through during the film’s second half, and it’s kind of sweet to watch it play out. While it may not exactly get to “moving” territory, it might just brighten your day. It’s certainly often unpleasant, but the moments in which it allows the heart to show are the points in which I actually started to have some fun.
Unfortunately, it’s never really funny. That’s a pretty big problem when you’re billing your film as a comedy and when your lead character is played by Russell Brand. Perhaps I just really hate the man-child character, as it rarely works effectively for me. “Oh, it’s a grown man acting like he’s six years old. That’s funny.” No, sorry, I don’t think so. Here, Arthur (Brand) is also filthy rich, and spends nights driving around the city in a batmobile. When I was a child, I could only wish to do that. Arthur actually gets to. Maybe I’m just jealous.
The man-child is a character that needs redeeming, which is why I figure it was used here. Making him spoiled and also an alcoholic gives the audience even more reason to want to see him turn his life around. He’s informed by his mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), that his late-night antics are causing her company — which supplies him with his money — problems, and that in order to keep him in-line, he’s going to marry a wealthy woman named Susan (Jennifer Garner). If he declines, he’ll lose all of his money, which is just under $1 billion. Obviously, he says that he’ll go through with the marriage.
Seemingly that day, he meets a tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig), and falls in love. Much of the film is spent with her, trying to avoid Susan, or with his Nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren). Susan is not in the film all that much, so the relationships that build between Naomi, Arthur, and Hobson, take up the majority of our time. I liked it when two or three of these actors were on-screen together, although there are also moments when Arthur is alone that fall completely flat, reminding us that Russell Brand is not a leading man.
Essentially, Arthur finds himself caught in the middle of the only important decision he’s ever had to make. Will he keep the money and be married to someone he doesn’t particularly like, or will he stay with the woman he loves and have to — gasp! — be poor? He’d even have to get a job if that were to happen. The impending decision is what ensures that there’s always tension in the film, although Arthur’s antics frequently seem more important, and the film lingers on them more often than is probably necessary.
I found myself getting bored of Arthur as a character. He seemed very stagnant, drinking right up until the end, ignoring his responsibilities, and continuing to act like a baby. That’s not exactly fair of me, as he does a little bit of growing up, but he didn’t change as much as you’d expect. He basically just meanders around, making unimportant observations about people and relationships and money before going back to the bottle or his bed.
The problem with this is that a lot of it isn’t funny. Occasionally, Brand’s rants can be hilarious, and there are a couple of enjoyable ones in here. But there are far too many that seem to go on forever, leading to a lot of tedium and boredom. Arthur plays for 107 minutes, but feels more like it’s two hours in length. If it were a 90 minute movie, it probably would have been more enjoyable. Keep in mind that this is a remake of the 1981 film of the same title that was only 97 minutes long, if you include the credits.
In what’s probably the biggest twist of the century, I actually liked Jennifer Garner in this. Actually, I think she’s better in Arthur than she’s been in anything else. Ever. Except for maybe Elektra, of course. Here she’s devilishly evil, trying to convince us that she’s not the smiling entity that most people associate with her. And she’s successful. You don’t like her, and not just because she’s her usual less-than-good self. I believed her in her role, and actually found myself wanting to see more.
Brand is less successful. While lots of Arthur at least attempts to be a comedy, there is a large portion that doesn’t. In comedy, Brand is hit and miss, but in drama, it’s almost all a failure. It’s only because of Helen Mirren that he’s tolerable, and only because she’s so good. Brand is charming enough, and he seemed to have strong chemistry with both Mirren and Gerwig, but he’s not a subtle or deep actor by any stretch of the imagination.
I did, however, still like the film’s heart, and that goes a long way. It’s enjoyable in some respects just because of how sweet it ends up becoming. I can’t say it’s overly successful, as it fails as both a comedy and in most regards as a drama, but there are some intangibles that it brings which help it stay kind of fun. It’s too long, it’s not funny enough, and it’s completely unnecessary considering it’s basically the same film as the 1981 version, but it can be enjoyed if you’re in the right frame of mind.