Arthur: Guess who’s playing Russell Brand?

Arthur – 2011

Directed by Jason Winer

Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Luis Guzman, Nick Nolte

Written by Peter Baynam based on a story by Steve Gordon

There is a point 30 minutes into Arthur where Nick Nolte joins Russell Brand on the screen.  After squinting really hard for about a minute, I realized that no matter what I did with my eyes, my ears were not going to process the sounds any better.  The combination of the slurring Brit and the grizzled, growling Nolte was absolutely brutal.  I had to put the subtitles.  Knowing what they said didn’t make it any better.

In full disclosure, I never was a fan of Dudley Moore, but the original film was a vehicle that played to his talents.  Acting drunk was an art form to him, but a movie about how a rich guy with an awesome butler (Gielgud, in a career role) who drinks because he is rich just failed to resonate in a lower middle class home of 10.  Still, the true love he found with a decent performance by Liza Minnelli, motivating him to become a better man, did have its appeal.  Move forward 30 years, insert Brand into the Moore role, Mirren in the Gielgud role and shake it up a bit, and you have a watchable film, but not much more.

The strengths from the first film, Hobson, Linda/Naomi, are the strengths in this film.  Mirren is much plainer than I have ever seen her.  Still, one can’t help but be drawn to the grace and dignity of  her character.  Unlike Gielgud’s aloof wizened remarks, you get the direct sharpness and biting truth.  As Naomi, Gerwig gets the chance to show more charm than she did in the gloomy Greenberg.  Being the best thing about that film isn’t much to hang your hat on.  Here she is one of the more realistic free spirits (read: the kind that still has to pay the bills) in recent memory.  There is a scene where Arthur, trying to woo her on a first official date, buys out Grand Central Station for a dinner.  During the dinner, he gets the idea that maybe it’d be great fun if they went to Paris.  She stops him, looks him in the eyes and asks why should they go away when they already have Grand Central Station?

There are a litany of one line jokes in the film, half of which resonate and the other half are lost in Brand’s unique variation of a drunken slur.  It would be overdoing it to say that he is not likable.  Every ounce of his being emits kindness…and a lack of sobriety.   Almost every role he’s taken has been of the recovering addict who has not lost his capacity for fun.  At this point, I would love to see him play someone without access to any amenities, much less drugs of any kind.  He is the example of a man trapped in the safety of modernity.  Gravity, the elements, having bills to pay do not apply to him.  There is a nice contrast here, with Gerwig.  Her character has a real organic chemistry with him.  Naomi can survive the effects of gravity, and you get a sense that she could motivate a change in him.  She almost does.

The rest of the roles are somewhat indistinguishable.  Guzman and Garner are good, but added nothing to the role that could not be achieved by nameless actors.  Nolte is working his way into becoming a formless, growling lump.

The writing is good, while not surpassing the original in any way.  Winer’s direction is cheerful, but nothing distinguishes the 2011 version from the original, not even the wacky cars.  Maybe I am just tired of New York.

(**1/2 out of *****)



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