When given a choice of the new crop of movies to review, I picked the remake of the 1981 film Arthur. I enjoyed Russell Brandt in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and to be quite honest there isn’t a lot I’m anxious to see in theatres right now. I had the advantage of not seeing the original film with Dudley Moore and the late, great John Geilgud, but it’s safe to say there won’t be any Oscar nominations for this one. That being said, the film has enough positives to offset the negatives. It is a witty and amusing movie, with surprisingly touching moments and a good moral about happiness, money and love.
I have to give credit to the cast of Arthur for making it worthwhile. Brandt starts out in the film with what seemed like a Dudley Moore impression, but thankfully he finds himself and gets better as it goes. The wonderful Helen Mirren, one of my personal favorites, is outstanding in what was the Geilgud role as Arthur’s caretaker, now in the form of a nanny. She steps in admirably for one of the great actors of his day, and only Mirren could change the gender of a role and still bring her signature style. Jennifer Garner continues to impress in her role as Arthur’s fiancée, forcing herself into his life only to be part of the family prestige. I’ve seen Garner in several films now, including Juno and The Kingdom, and she certainly has skills. The role is a departure for her, and she really throws herself into it. Nick Nolte makes an effortless appearance as Arthur’s future father-in-law, and in what seems to be typecasting for him, brings another form of unglued to the screen. The most pleasant acting surprise is the newcomer Greta Gerwig. As Arthur’s love interest, she really impressed me with her portrayal as his polar opposite. She’s a commoner to his royalty, and in what could have been a one- dimensional character she shines and rises to the material she’s given. And this is a hallmark of good acting: to be able to make the most of what you have.
Regarding the laughs, it’s not a side-splitting comedy. I did laugh, many times loudly, but there were plenty of misses to go along with the hits. Regarding this, it is always about the writing, not the acting. The script simply is not as funny as the actors delivering the lines. I have a system I use for films like this: see a matinee, not the full price. You won’t feel ripped off. Some films simply aren’t worth the big ticket.
The best thing I can say about Arthur is that it was surprisingly moving where it counts. The relationships between Arthur and his nanny (much like the original), and between him and his main love interest show the heart of the characters and the film itself. The film is marked by several touching moments and once again, the actors rise to the occasion. This is a real strength in a film like this, and I would recommend it for this aspect, as opposed to the comedy.
Finally, the point of the movie is truer now than when the original was released. Money does not fill the void. Some things are more important. And people are better than things. Arthur is the modern-day telling of the tale of King Midas, and that’s a good role for Russell Brandt. Enjoy!