Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday at the Movies #45 Arthur

Here's a sentence I never thought I would utter: Russell Brand made me cry. I did not see that coming,but there it is. I should state up front that I only have seen portions of the 1981 Dudley Moore original, so apart from knowing the general gist of the story, was able to take this remake on its own terms.

Same general story, richer than rich, eternally childlish, alcohol-soaked playboy must marry to repair the family reputation, but falls in love with poor but principled girl from the other side of the tracks. Will he do as he's always been told or man up and choose what's right? Classic plot right there, so the potential for originality is going to be in the interpretation and performances.

I have long had a soft spot for Englishman-in-New-York stories, so combine that with a lively, engaging performance by Russell Brand as the big little boy, with Dame Helen Mirren and Luis Guzman as his nanny and chauffer, only friends in the world and perfect foils, plus the new-to-me Greta Gerwig as Arthur's love interest, Naomi, an unlicensed tour guide with a passion for the little known sights of New York, and I found Arthur a fun, touching and pretty darned satisfying experience. Though I wouldn't count myself a Jennifer Garner fan, her character, Arthur's would-be wife, Susan, came across as clear and relentless as Susan's quest to nab Arthur's name for her own. Wind in the Willows references are a bonus. "She's my Toad," said in an earnest British accented male voice can be incredibly romantic.

Again, Russell Brand made me cry; that's worth saying twice. I'd expected the madcap insanity of Arthur's typical hijinx, taking the Batmobile out for a spin, outrageous partying, and depending on his lifelong nanny, Hobson to coddle him from the realities of grownup life. I hadn't expected the touching moments, like emptying Grand Central Station so he could give Naomi the fantasy date he'd fabricated earlier, or the love and care he puts into becoming Hobson's caregiver, reversing the roles in the most dependable relationship he'd ever known. The aborted wedding reminded me slightly of Four Weddings and a Funeral, a big favorite of mine, and Arthur and Naomi's next scene after that struck me as both tragic and hopeful that Arthur would accept the wakeup call for what it was.

The grand romantic gesture that is one of the conventions of the romantic comedy has its place here, and I was surprised to find it a more subdued version than I had expected. Then again, Russell Brand does really well when playing off children, so I'm not going to object on this one.

What I am going to object to is one of my pet peeves. Naomi may start out the movie as a tour guide, but what she really wants to do is write children's books. Publishing. Does. Not. Work. Like. That. Naomi's picture book goes from a haphazard bundle of notes, to fully illustrated manuscript popped off in a manila envelope, to Naomi telling Arthur she'd sold her book in such short order that the only explanation is that she sent it via Tardis. Sure, Arthur bought the publishing house and told them to publish the book, but my big question was, how did they find the ms in all that slush? Then again, if Naomi really can go from idea to publishable ms complete with her own illustrations that are professional quality in a couple of days, that's a smart business decision. Get her under a lifetime contract, pronto.

I also want Naomi's publicist, because they were able to get her a reading and signing at the New York Public Library less than six months after she first sent her book out into the world. I'll settle for the DVD of the movie instead.

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