Russell Brand is a wastrel heir forced to choose between love and money in Arthur, an update of the 1981 film starring Dudley Moore.
Which I haven’t seen — no clip of the film has ever induced me to sit down and give the film a look and this movie isn’t likely to change that for a good long time.
Arthur (Brand) is the heir of an exceptionally wealthy family. Just to anger his mother, the serious Vivienne (Geraldine James), he dresses up in full Batman costume to attend her fundraiser, buying a Batmobile to finish off the look. Alas, he never makes it to the fundraiser — his driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman), accidentally crashes the vehicle. Luckily, it was Arthur, not Bitterman, who was drinking. Even more luckily, Arthur has plenty of cash to bail out not only him and Bitterman but everyone at the jail that night.
Tired of this kind of behavior, Vivienne blackmails Arthur into agreeing to marry Susan (Jennifer Garner). Marry her, Vivienne threatens, or give up your nearly-a-billion-dollar inheritance. Susan weirdly has enough of the hots for Arthur that she doesn’t mind this arranged marriage — also, she wants to gain his last name to help her run the company when Vivienne finally steps down. Both Vivienne and Susan are in agreement that, since Arthur can’t run his life successfully and his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) is aging, it’s time he gets a wife to do it.
Wouldn’t you know it, the moment Arthur agrees to a loveless marriage, love — or at least the possibility of it — appears in his life. Naomi (Greta Gerwig) gives quirky tours through New York City to earn the money to take care of an ailing father and support her dream of one day writing a children’s book. Arthur is besotted by her at first sight and even though he technically has a fiancée, he tries to win her over with all his icky, hyper charm.
So much capering, so few buckets in which to stick my head.
The guy who cut the trailer for this movie is a genius because at some point in the week or so before seeing this movie I actually said, out loud, something like “I think this movie might be kinda funny.” Something about the way the clips of this funny bit and that funny bit lined up had me thinking, very incorrectly, that this could be dumb fun. How wrong I was.
Arthur feels empty. Not just empty of humor but empty of air and life. The humor is so forced, so stale I half expected a laugh track. The trailer suggested half-a-dozen ways the movie could have gone to balance the zany with, I don’t know, something — emotion, story, some kind of commentary on wealth. But nothing sparked. The movie goes nowhere with anything — the story makes little sense when it starts and no sense in the way it resolves its plots. Brand bounces around, turned all the way to “Robin Williams,” but never says a single thing that feels funny or real in any way.
This was not the movie’s biggest disappointment, however.
I guess I knew that even Helen Mirren couldn’t work miracles but I hoped that somehow she’d be able to make something out of the little crumbs that she was given. Her Hobson shows hints of having some inner life, some motivations for her actions. But we never get to see it really go anywhere. All that Mirrenness is just wasted.
Just as disappointing is Greta Gerwig. Known for being a mumblecore princess, Gerwig has nonetheless been thoroughly likeable in all the roles I’ve seen her in. Even when a movie is nakedly pushing her as a “quirky regular girl” — No Strings Attached for example — Gerwig has always been enjoyable. She breaks up the monotony of plasticy actors behaving exactly how you expect. Here, however, she is the worst kind of example of the “manic pixie dream girl,” as described by Nathan Rabin in an article at A.V. Club. She is whimsical and wears wacky hats but still helps to ground Arthur. Oh, vomit, is my only response to that. Gerwig deserves so much better. As do we. D
Rated PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content and some drug references. Directed by Jason Winer and written by Peter Baynham and Steve Gordon, Arthur is an hour and 50 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.