Movie review: Arthur
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Opens locally Friday, April 8th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Luis Guzman
Directed by Jason Winer (feature film debut)
"Arthur" is a re-make of the 1981 film of the same name starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli. I won't get into my tantrum about why Hollywood wants to re-make every single classic film, but apparently Arthur was ready for a reboot...most younger people I spoke with didn't realize that the old "Arthur" even existed. But I remember as a kid watching Dudley Moore make alcoholism look cool, and was awaiting this new version with a bit of hesitation. The world has changed a lot since 1981, and in 2011, are we really meant to sympathize with a bajillionaire playboy who loses everything?
The Plot. Arthur was a big success in 1981, winning 2 Academy Awards and receiving 2 more nominations, including Dudley Moore's performance as the rich alcoholic who falls in love with a regular gal. Arthur is accompanied by his guardian, Hobson (played originally by John Gielgud, who won an Oscar for the role), who is hard on Arthur but cares for the reckless millionaire. Arthur is set to marry someone he does not love, as the marriage is arranged for his family to become even wealthier. His father gives him an ultimatum, that his endless supply of money will be cut off if he does not go through with the marriage. Arthur of course, realizes that love is more important than money, and that money doesn't buy happiness.
The New Version. Now that it's 2011, being an alcoholic is sooo much less PC. If you're going to be Arthur in 2011, you better count on some time in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), and some messages about how being sober is what bring's happiness...that's a plot point lost in the original. Arthur is now played by Russell Brand, who's take on the character is more irresponsible man-child than happy-go-lucky drunk. Hobson is now a woman, played by Helen Mirren, and Arthur's wife-to-be is much easier to despise and plays a bigger role in the film.
Comparisons. What's interesting about the 2011 Arthur film is that it captures the best of what made the original a hit, but isn't a straight-up copy. In the new film, we get much more characterization, and there is a bit more heart. I was impressed with the tenderness that Russell Brand possessed...unlike Dudley Moore's likeable baffoon, Brand has real moments of vulnerability, and we see him grow-up a bit on screen. The basic plot details remain the same, and they even take the best scenes and jokes from the original. Greta Gerwig continues to climb the star charts, as her sweet and touching turn in the Liza Minelli role really holds a lot of the zaniness of the movie together.
Bottom Line. What we're left with is a worthy update that wasn't just re-made for the sake of it. It's very funny, mainly on the shoulders of Brand. In our materialistic society, in the midst of a recession, we get a story about what it takes to be happy, and prioritizing our relationships with others above worldly things that money can buy. Russell Brand is faithful to the funny and light-hearted spirit of the original, but adds a newfound touch of humanity to the role. A great supporting cast (including Nick Nolte whom I wish was on screen a bit more) makes it a workable, if not great, romantic comedy...and in that genre, "workable" is about the best compliment a romantic comedy has received in probably the past 10 years.
It won't change your life, but it's worth checking out, especially if you've never seen the original. If you have seen the original, you'll enjoy the references made in the new film to the old one. Just try not to think about "why" they re-make movies like this, and applaud that a movie like Arthur will at least reach a new audience.
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