Starring: Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, Helen Mirren, Nick Nolte, and Luis Guzmán
Distributor: Roadshow Films
Runtime: 110 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
It’s thirty years since Dudley Moore was the cheerful, alcoholic ne’er-do-well, Arthur, the New York billionaire. It’s thirty years since John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance as Arthur’s butler and nanny, Hobson. No reason, not to have an update.
Russell Brand. After making his name as a comedian, Russell Brand has been appearing as an actor in films as diverse as Get Him to the Greek and The Tempest. He gave his voice for the central Easter Bunny in Hop. Generally, he sounds the same, a distinctive British accent and tone that often can get away with humorous murder. He uses it again in Arthur, but there is much more in his performance.
In fact, there is quite an amount of nice romanticism and sentiment in this version of Arthur. Brand has no difficulty in showing the irresponsible and indulgent side of Arthur. But, he is also convincing in showing an underlying intelligence (which he hasn’t bothered developing) and the change from philandering nitwit to falling genuinely in love as well as showing a kindness to Hobson who (after her change to Prospera in The Tempest) is now played by Helen Mirren, Arthur’s devoted but not exactly no-nonsense nanny.
Arthur’s mother – a steely performance by Geraldine James – has had little time for her spendthrift son who embarrasses her no end. She offers an ultimatum: either he marry the ambitious Susan (Jennifer Garner) or be cut off from his inheritance. By chance, he encounters Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an illegal tour guide at Grand Central Station and is charmed and then falls in love. Will he marry and keep the money? Will Susan’s father (a gnarled Nick Nolte) threaten him with his electric saw? Could his mother ever change her mind? Could Naomi really return Arthur’s love?
Russell Brand is always good at one-liners or toss-away funny and ironic lines and there are plenty here to keep the audience amused and on-side. Helen Mirren clearly enjoys herself being strict, being indulgent, commenting waspishly on Arthur’s behaviour – and instructing him how to make tea with a teabag. Luis Guzman is Arthur’s amenable chauffeur (even to dressing as Batman and Robin and driving a batmobile). And the NYPD shows amazing tolerance and understanding.
Greta Gerwig has the difficult job of persuading us that Arthur is worth loving despite his fickle past. She does it very nicely and makes Naomi a pleasing, ordinarily down-to-earth character.
And Arthur’s drinking and resolutions. After a failed AA meeting where Hobson strongly but gently chides him, he offers non-stop comment on his progress.
And then, final credits and a new version of Arthur’s theme that won the Best Song Oscar way back then.
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