You don’t expect “Arthur” to
work very well, because it’s a re-make, and the original won 2 Oscars
(very rare for a comedy), and who can replace Dudley Moore’s lovable
insouciance or Liza Minnelli’s electric vivacity?
Well, one method is to not even try to
duplicate the original, but to use the basic premise and convey an entirely
different atmosphere. And would you
believe this updated version is more politically correct?
What made us cringe about the
original, even at the time, was watching Arthur drink himself silly, then
get behind the wheel. At least in the
21st century version, he lets his valet drive.
Luis Gonzalez doesn’t add that much to the comedy, other than
appearing in a ridiculously ill-fitting Robin outfit, but by that time
we’ve already grown accustomed to Arthur playing Batman, firing up the
faux-Batmobile, and roaring down the city streets, just because he can.
Yes, of course he’s a lout and a lush.
What else would you expect from someone who has been handed wealth
all of his life, and never had to learn responsibility?
His power-driven Mother sits atop the enormously successful family
business, imperious and arrogant and ruthless, having long ago consigned her
son to the care of nannies, maids, coaches, aux-peres, and sous-chefs.
Of all those paid to care for him, only one actually has:
Hobson, the nursemaid played by Helen Mirren.
She’s the Mom that Arthur always wanted his real Mother to be, the
one who spent time with him, indulged his whims, read him bedtime stories,
and also fussed at him, the one who believed in him and thought he was,
underneath, much stronger and more caring than anybody ever realized,
Enter the procession of selfish,
money-grubbing, self-promoting women who want to get their hooks into
Arthur, to avail themselves of his considerable fortune.
Fortunately for him, he’s too self-absorbed to really notice that
they’re piranhas in easily-removable clothing.
The difference with Susan (Jennifer Gardner, playing against type in
a deliciously naughty part) is that she’s been calculating enough to
endear herself to wicked witch Mother, and so Arthur (happily overplayed by
an energetically childish Russell Brand) is now under pressure to marry
Susan, or else: or else he’s cut
off from her inheritance.
There’s a part of him that wishes he
could do without it. But he knows he
really has no marketable skills, and is so accustomed to indulging every
fantastic whim that he hardly knows what to do with himself when he’s not
scandalously throwing away his money. Enter
the only nearly-normal person, Naomi (Greta Gerwig), except that she’s a
wannabe writer who gives unauthorized (illegal) tours of
New York City
landmarks, expecting gratuities from unsuspecting tourists in exchange for
her gratuitous effervescence. Ah,
entrepreneurism, isn’t it grand?
Arthur immediately falls head over
heels for her, probably because she ignores him, which nobody else around
him has enough sense to do for him. Of
course, there’s that little inconvenience of the impending arranged
marriage, and she, though almost desperate for financial support, will not
be anyone’s mistress, no matter how well-provided-for.
Will true love triumph over crass
materialism? Do those have to be the
only two choices? “Arthur” is,
against all odds, consistently funny. Mirren
is fantastically nuanced, Brand is compellingly puerile, and we can only
wonder why we are so attracted to Gerwig, who dresses like Minnie Mouse and
is absent for long sequences, but somehow we root for her, anyway.
“Arthur” is a pleasant surprise: a
cheeky little comedy from a more innocent era that seems just enough dated
to be charming.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor,
United Presbyterian Church,