Reviews

'Arthur' Is a Billionaire Devil-May-Care Addict

The movie can't quite decide whether to see Arthur's rampant spending as lovable whimsy or a pathetic, wasteful cry for help.


Arthur

Director: Jason Winer
Cast: Russell Brand, Greta Gerwig, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Luis Guzman
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2011
US release date: 2011-04-08
Website
Trailer

In Arthur, Russell Brand plays a motor-mouthed, devil-may-care addict who also happens to be worth nearly a billion dollars. Indeed, Arthur Bach seems like the perfect role for a motor-mouthed, devil-may-care comedian. If he's not so wealthy as to be able to buy famous movie cars (the Batmobile, the DeLorean from Back to the Future) so he can drive them around Manhattan, he is famous and rich and has had his own well-publicized bouts with substance addiction.

Yet, compared to Brand's previous film work, which has consisted almost entirely of his vaguely autobiographical Aldous Snow rock-star character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, his take on Arthur feels sanitized, as well as cutely customized to fit the pattern of arrested-development males so popular in recent comedies. This Arthur is, of course, a remake of the 1981 comedy starring Dudley Moore as the drunken billionaire, and what once may have been described as boyish is now, at times, downright childlike.

This childlike behavior is meant to be part of Arthur's charm, but it's more like a gesture toward a character, less fully formed than cobbled together. Arthur is part juvenile (with his Batmobile and unchecked appetites), part Russell Brand persona (with his stream-of-consciousness wordplay and musings about how he doesn't trust horses), and part eccentric shut-in who seems to have never been to Grand Central Station.

These bits of personality zigzag at cross-purposes, like Brand's talk-show conversational style but less amusing. As a result, the movie's laughs -- and there are some -- feel stray and disconnected. Brand is at his best offering the kind of bizarre self-commentary you might recognize from his awards-hosting gigs on TV. But here his asides only boost the distance between him and the rest of the film: "I'm in a chase!" he exclaims at one point, and yes, he is. Scene after scene consists of Brand playing off one cast member at a time, in a plodding rotation that grows wearying.

Some of these scenes involve his faithful, long-suffering, sometimes acid-tongued nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren, gender-switching Oscar-winner Sir John Gielgud in the original part). Others pit him against Jennifer Garner as Susan Johnson, the chilly executive whom Arthur's mother (Geraldine James) wants him to marry in order to maintain his inheritance. Garner has one funny sequence where she out-drinks Arthur and shows up at his doorstep, giving her the opportunity to cut loose. But otherwise, Susan is only villainous, though not quite as inconsequential as her grumbling father (Nick Nolte).

Amid the wan sideshows, Brand does almost connect with one costar. As in the original, Arthur meets a poor girl from Queens, here called Naomi (Greta Gerwig) and given the movie-friendly ambition to write children's books. She receives, we're told, life-changing encouragement from Arthur regarding her writing. As played by indie heroine Gerwig, Naomi's a sleepy-eyed and not-so-manic pixie dream girl, almost movie-star radiant, in an offhand sort of way.

Briefly, Naomi's relationship with Arthur has a nice symmetry: he uses Manhattan as an expensive playground, while she, conducting unlicensed tours for her day job, tries to find city magic on the cheap, showing Arthur that fun can be had for free. But this contrast is never fully explored, because the movie can't quite decide whether to see Arthur's rampant spending as lovable whimsy or a pathetic, wasteful cry for help. Eventually, it seems to conclude that his bad behavior is both -- not as a nod toward complexity, but because it needs Arthur to seem both redeemed and fun-loving.

The same is true of this incarnation of Arthur. It's little bit fun, but also a little bit apathetic. Arthur's alcoholism is no longer the broad joke that it could be in 1981. Now it seems incidental; Brand is such a loose-limbed goofball that his moments of drunkenness and lucidity are difficult to parse. For all of the verbal jokes about his wild shenanigans, Arthur never seems all that interested in his many vices, at least not with the debauched commitment of Aldous Snow in Get Him to the Greek, which better showed off a rich man's heedless pleasures and the pain behind them. What might have seemed ingenious casting on paper is on screen just redundant.

4

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image