Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Geraldine James, Luis Guzmán, Nick Nolte, Christina Calph, Murphy Guyer, José Ramón Rosario, John Hodgman, Scott Adsit, Peter Van Wagner and Evander Holyfield.
Screenplay by Peter Baynham.
Directed by Jason Winer.
Distributed by Warner Brothers. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.
There are very few films which seem less necessary for a remake than the 1981 Dudley Moore comedy Arthur. Not to say that it was not a fine movie – it was – but it was a story that was told well enough the first time out. It was also very much a product of its time.
Moore played Arthur Bach, a constantly drunk alcoholic millionaire playboy whose only real friend was his persnickety British butler (legendary British actor John Gielgud won his only Oscar for the role). He was being forced by his family to marry a rich woman that he did not care for, but then he met a poor woman who he truly did love. Therefore he had a decision to make: stay rich in a loveless marriage, or marry the poor girl and he would be cut off from his family’s $750 million fortune.
The film essentially cemented Moore’s stardom in the States – though he already gotten notice in the US for the films 10 and Foul Play and had been popular in British comedy for well over a decade at that point.
Like most film remakes, the new Arthur is not as good as the original. However, for a nice change of pace, it is actually not all that far off, quality wise. The new Arthur is an inferior Arthur, but it is also a rather loving tribute – very faithful to the original storyline (even repeating quite a few lines word for word) and mostly impeccably casted.
However, of course, in modernizing Arthur, the movie studios felt the need to take out some of the rough edges and soften many of the more politically incorrect aspects which made the original work. For example, Moore’s Arthur was still an unapologetic drunk even at the end of the film. Modern Arthur has to gain sobriety before winning the girl. Also, Moore’s Arthur was drinking and carousing because there was a deep well of melancholia in his life. As played by Russell Brand, for the most part it just seems like he does it because it would be a laugh.
In the original, Arthur met the love of his life when she was committing a crime – shoplifting a tie from Bergdorf-Goodman. In the new film, he also meets her when she is committing a crime, but it is a cuddlier offense, she is running unlicensed tours of Grand Central Station for tourists. (Interestingly, later there is a joke about stealing a tie from Bergdorf-Goodman, but it is out of context to Arthur’s new love.) In fact, Naomi (played by the luminous Greta Gerwig of last year’s Greenberg) is a much more generic love interest than Liza Minnelli’s original role. Minnelli was a spitfire and much more confident in herself than Gerwig’s character, who is just a sweet but neurotic person who sees the good in his little boy demeanor.
This change is actually made rather explicit – all of the other main characters kept the names from the original film, but this character name has changed from Linda Marolla (Minnelli) to Naomi Quinn (Gerwig).
The arranged fiancée character is also changed significantly. In the original, she was a well-meaning but slightly dull woman who truly did care for Arthur; in fact she was often extremely tolerant of his bad behavior. Today it is deemed too harsh to have a nice woman hurt, so the character has become a shrewish bitch who is only interested in his money and power.
Also, Arthur’s relationship with his prickly British butler Hobson has also been significantly softened. Her relationship is significantly more nurturing – as shown in just the fact that Hobson is now his long-time nanny. John Gielgud’s Hobson was such an arresting comic character because he was so stuffy and clipped. He was often quite mean to Arthur: sparring with him constantly in a constant attempt to make him a better man and trying to hide the fact that he loved him. Helen Mirren’s nanny Hobson is still somewhat snooty, but there is never any doubt of her doting love for her charge.
However, perhaps it is unfair to judge the new Arthur in context of the older one, because the world (and filmmaking) has certainly changed in the 30 years since the first was released. It might be a tough sell in today’s climate to make a light comedy with a character who is usually falling-down drunk and seen drinking while driving more than once. (This would probably be a particularly hard sell for Brand, who is well-known as a recovering alcohol and drug addict.) Characters in the original also indulged in such un-PC acts as smoking regularly, soliciting prostitutes, shoplifting, encouraging domestic violence between strangers and telling Polish jokes.
As said earlier, the casting is a real strength here – in particular in the lead role. If there is any actor working that could live up to Moore’s performance in the role, it would be Brand. (Ironically, in his memoir My Booky Wook, Brand acknowledged always being more of a fan of Moore’s former comic partner Peter Cook than Dudley himself.)
Mirren and Gerwig both do very well with their roles, though both – particularly Gerwig’s – characters are a bit underwritten. Garner and Nick Nolte’s [who plays Garner’s dad] characters are rather cartoonish, but those roles were even in the first film.
Arthur is definitely worth seeing. It may not live up to its inspiration, but it is a loving if slightly flawed attempt to recreate it. And if it makes you want to go watch the original again, then that’s all the better.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 8, 2011.