Thursday, April 7, 2011

DIFF Review ARTHUR - He Said

Directed by: Jason Winer
Written by: Peter Bayhan, Steve Gordon
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, and Jennifer Garner

So Russell Brand, for better or worse, seems to be the male version of Megan Fox, in that there's so much whining from the Internet whenever he gets cast in movies. I totally get why people would not dig the guy: he looks half like a super feminine hipster/dude-bro covered in leather, he married Katy Perry, and his humor might not even be considered funny at all! Regardless, maybe it was my first impression of him in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, but the guy doesn't bother me, plus I don't watch MTV or any of that nonsense where he usually appears. So needless to say, I was not negatively biased towards this movie as much as some other people, and take into account I haven't seen the original ARTHUR in such a long time, I might as well never have seen it, plus Helen Mirren is in it, so I was pretty OK watching this. So how does this remake about a selfish, frivolous, alcoholic millionaire man-boy do? Surprisingly well, if your expectations are well grounded.

As I stated above, I can't quite remember the original movie. Given this, I was still surprised that "in this economy" someone would dare release a movie starring a highly polarizing dude playing basically a drunken asshole throwing money around. I think not even director, Winer, seems to know. Early in the movie, a reporter asks him that question, Arthur (Brand) exclaims "What recession?" and gives a crowd about $100,000 in cash. Ok, so I can get past this. Once we get into the story, you see that fortune has warped Arthur's perception of the world in a very tragic way. He literally is a little kid trapped in a horny, booze-loving body. He parties recklessly, he seems to sleep with whoever, his behavior seems downright psychotic given his lack of normal and healthy social skills. I must say though, half of the time I was jealous of this character, between the BATMAN FOREVER Batmobile and the floating magnetic bed, I don't see how anyone couldn't be. Arthur relies too much on his nanny Hobson (Mirren) to get around, yet she is always there trying to protect him all the while being frustrated at the apparently stunted growth he has experienced.

The story starts with Arthur embarrassing his Lucille Buth-type mother, Vivianne, during fundraiser after crashing his Batmobile. His mother gives him the ultimatum of marrying a respectable woman such as Susan (Garner) to help him get his life together, or be cut off his $980,000 inheritance. Not quite ready to give that up, he is willing. That is until he meets the whimsical Naomi, a poor illegal tour guide with an eye for making the world beautiful, who he is immediately attracted to for some reason. After bailing her out of going to jail, Arthur becomes pretty obsessed with her, maybe because she is one of the few women that seems to not put up with him, or maybe she is just that magical.

I found that the privileged guy with demons seems to be Brand’s go-to role; he basically plays the same guy in GET HIM TO THE GREEK. Yet for all of the praise that movie got, I feel he plays that type of character better in this movie. There’s a bit more subtlety to his acting here which I enjoyed. That’s not to say that all of the sudden he is an amazing actor, but at least he’s getting better. I think that his relationship with Hobson is really amusing but ultimately familiar, with Hobson being the strict one with a sarcastic tone and Arthur making some funny remark towards her when he doesn’t get his way. Helen Mirren has done better comedic acting in RED, but I’m not sure if she’s to blame because I would like to bet she could only do as good as what she got from the script. As good as all of this is, I have to say Gerwig steals the show; every time she steps on camera you cant help but focus on her 100%. Her character is very self-aware which leads to some of the best lines in the movies. It’d be easy to once again use the Manic Pixie Dream Girl title to her, but that seems to fall short of the charm her character exudes. Yes, she inspires Arthur in an almost magical way, but she also challenges him and doesn’t put up with his shit. For the majority of the movie she’s actually a very strong character.

The big issue with this movie is the writing. There are a lot of jokes that fall flat in an almost uncomfortable way. I get where they tried to go with those jokes, but it just doesn’t work. Then the characterization of Arthur is insanely uneven. He is characterized as a man-child with no knowledge of how to make even a simple cup of tea or Spaghetti-os, and yet his dialogue is very clever and referential in a way that would lead you to believe he keeps up with the news or at least reads. It seems that the writers just turned on one aspect of Arthur to suit the situation without much thought to consistency. This is beyond frustrating. The alcoholism subplot is something that I think was handled decently, with a few very tragic scenes relating to it. I'm not sure if that would have drastically changed the movie, but there was a point where I felt it would have been really appropriate to deal with the subject, but instead that moment gets pushed back 20 minutes.

The story itself goes through many of the same plot points you would come to expect from this sort of movie, which is fine and you can tell that they were trying to go for something deeper from this comedy in the veins of Judd Apatow movies, and yet once again, it fails because of the unnecessary situations the characters are put in that start conflict and give them something to overcome. A big example is when Susan puts bigger strain in Arthur and Naomi’s relationship, where she reveals that Arthur might be using his money to sneakily help Naomi. That would have been fine and dandy and cemented Susan as evil, but there is absolutely no reason why she should have known that information prior to this scene. Other big issue is Jennifer Garner; she is given nothing to do in this movie but play an even bitchier version other character from JUNO. Her character is not developed at all and just shows up randomly to mess stuff up. Her biggest scene where she shows up drunk at Arthur’s place to show she’s spontaneous is so out of character, for what little we know about it, that it could have been cut out completely and the movie would’ve been better for it.

Overall, this movie is ambitious in where it is trying to go, in terms of a comedy, but I think that adhering to the constructs of a comedy with romance and some downright awful dialogue seem to kill the chances of this movie, which is a shame because any movie with Helen Mirren in a Darth Vader helmet should be Oscar material. What’s worse is that the ending is so safe it almost belittles the journey Arthur goes through. If you see this movie, you will laugh, and Brand, Mirren and Gerwig are pretty funny here, but don’t expect a comedic revelation here. I couldn’t tell anyone to spend his or her $10 at the theater for this movie, but it would be a great matinee or Netflix rent.

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