DVD Review: Unless you’re hopelessly devoted to the Dudley Moore original, it’s hard to dislike Russell Brand’s harmlessly shambling, amiable, and often amusing remake of Arthur.
This new Arthur is a lightweight, inebriated lark that, like its alcoholic playboy protagonist, doesn’t work too hard to make much of itself, but nor does it ask much of the viewer. Just giggle and smile and embrace it as a genial, well-pickled rom-com.
How much you’re able to do that is going to depend on two things: 1) How you feel about the 1981 version with Dudley Moore, and 2) your general reaction to (and tolerance for) Russell Brand.
No doubt Dudley Moore is very funny and much warmer and more lovable than Brand, but the original Arthur itself is a slight, uneven, goof that’s lifted immensely by Moore and Gielgud’s performances–much of the love for it today is nostalgic (and in part a yearning for a less-PC age when drunks and drinking and driving were seen as funny, not sad and deadly).
Personally, I laughed at and enjoyed both versions about equally.
As for Brand, in the spirit of Fitzgerald I’m able to hold two opposed ideas about the British loon in my mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. I think he’s hilarious—Get Him to the Greek was one of my favorite comedies of last year. I also completely understand anyone who finds him off-putting or outright annoying.
Here Brand is Arthur Bach, billionaire man-child and dedicated drunk who rolls recklessly through his family’s wealth (and wine cellar), attended to by a lackey (Luis Guzman) and sternly steered clear of complete hedonistic self-destruction by his nanny Hobson.
Taking over the John Gielgud role is the great and droll Helen Mirren, proving once again that being the great and droll Helen Mirren means you can stroll regally through the silliest of stuff and still make it feel authentic and effortless.
As the story goes, Arthur’s CEO mother (Geraldine James) tires of his soused shenanigans and serves him an ultimatum: Marry a scary corporate courtesan of her choosing (Jennifer Garner, with crazy father Nick Nolte in tow) or live in poverty with the little people.
Arthur’s commitment to maintaining his life of luxurious excess is further complicated when he meets and falls for one of those little people: a charming and “wacky” waif played by the always-stellar Greta Gerwig (Greenberg, No Strings Attached).
Brand and Gerwig have an odd, almost hesitant push-and-pull chemistry. She’s a terrific actress, but he seems like a hard actor to connect with in a scene. Brand’s got those big, expressive eyes and exclamatory eyebrows, but maybe it’s the steep guardrail cheekbones that hold you at bay. (Or that manic, high-pitched whine. Or the rock-star narcissism?)
And where Dudley Moore’s diminutive height and lovable manner made him feel warm and cuddly, Brand cuts a more imposing, even aggressive figure—you feel like he and his hedonistic scowl are constantly lunging at you.
Still, Brand puts forth an earnest and eager effort, his R-rated mind and mouth only occasionally stymied by a PG-13 rom-com. (This new Arthur is directed by Jason Winer, a Modern Family vet.)
If Brand sometimes seems like a one-trick rummy, I still find that trick a funny one (especially the comic actor’s smart asides and drop-ins). Aided by Mirren and Gerwig and once again playing a lush with a liver of gold, Brand stays upright and on his feet for Arthur—even when stumbling about in Dudley Moore’s shoes.
More from the cast of Arthur at redbox:
- Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek (on DVD and Blu-ray) and Despicable Me (on DVD and Blu-ray)
- Greta Gerwig in House of the Devil and No Strings Attached
- Helen Mirren in RED (on DVD and Blu-ray), Love Ranch, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, and State of Play
- Jennifer Garner in Valentine’s Day