Sunday, March 16, 2014

Movie Buff--Arthur (2011)

Helen Mirren in a Darth Vader helmet.

The 2011 Arthur remake is the story of a woman and her father, people who worked hard their entire lives and built up a successful construction company out of nothing, her becoming a successful, respected businesswoman. No wait, it's the story of her reluctant fiance, an incredibly rich alcoholic who is essentially a giant man child, whom we're supposed to feel sorry for because he's being forced into a loveless marriage with a sex-crazed Jennifer Garner as the only condition of keeping his ridiculous wealth. Also, he is currently being attended to at every moment by his nanny Helen Mirren.

If you can spot the problem here, then you are probably right.

The original Arthur was made in 1981, and had roughly the same premise. The "poor little rich boy" theme plays very, very differently in 2011, and that's probably the film's biggest misstep--if you can call the fundamental concept behind the movie a misstep. The other big problem would be the fact that it's not particularly funny, hitting that romantic comedy note where it's not funny enough to be a comedy, and not romantic enough for the audience to look beyond the general contrivance of the romance. It could have worked, I think, or at least have failed in a more interesting manner, if it wasn't trying to convince us we should feel sorry for Arthur. A man who has spent at least a decade of his life in a non-stop drunken stupor should have a hell of a dark side, and Arthur's basically just a Richie Rich who slurs his words every now and then.

The cast does their best. Russell Brand stars as Arthur, which is basically the same schtick that he played in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Me to the Greek--and this movie demonstrates why that character wasn't really the lead in either film. Greta Gerwig (who, in a bizarre coincidence, was born *exactly* the same day as me) is likable enough in that the blond romantic interest in this sort of movie basically serves no role but to be blandly likable.  I came out of the film generally predisposed towards her, though I still think "How I Met Your Father" is a terrible idea. Helen Mirren is his nanny, Hobson, in a role that has been gender-bendered from the original position as a valet. Mirren, to the surprise of no one, nails it. She creates some sympathy for Arthur just by virtue of association--if Mirren likes Arthur, the audience is led to believe, there must be *something* to him. Wisely, the film focuses on their relationship almost as much as Arthur's with Gerwig, if not more. The only unbelievable part is that we're asked to accept that if she was raising Arthur in lieu of his absent mother (Geraldine James, whose relationship with Arthur reminds me a little of Archer and his mom on the cartoon Archer), he'd turn out to be such a generally worthless human being. And rounding things out is Jennifer Garner as Susan Johnson, the would-be fiancee, who's not crazy about Arthur, but wants the family company and finds him sexually attractive. Honestly, I've got a soft spot for Garner, so I was prepared to hate a film that casts her as the villain on her behalf, but she seems to be having some fun here.

The cast elevates this film to better than it should be, but it's still tone-deaf and not very good in the first place. To cap off its complete failure to comment on opulent wealth, I'd like to note that yes, it was a failure at the box office--in that it made only $45 million, a mere $5 million more than it cost to make in the first place. And this failure's profit is still more than I will ever see in my entire life.

Still, this is a film where Helen Mirren wears a Darth Vader mask. And Jennifer Garner gets to deck Russell Brand, which is pretty sweet.

Later Days.

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