Just as surely as rain makes things wet, Arthur will make you laugh. Yet the film never justifies its existence—remake or not. Hollywood is determined to make Russell Brand a comedic lead, but simply placing his acquired comedic sensibilities in the star role doesn’t equal success. Throw in a bloated run time and a cute, but unromantic chemistry between Brand and Greta Gerwig, and we have the makings of a generic romantic comedy that is further burdened by being a remake. The real shame is that on paper, the film has enough comedic ingredients to make something worthwhile instead of simply unoffensive. Hit the jump for my full review.
Arthur Bach (Brand) is a drunken billionaire looking for any excuse to have fun. Luckily for him, the lack of a job and responsibilities (or consequences) means he is free to lovingly torment his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) and driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman). That is, until his mother finally tires of his childish ways and threatens to cut him off if he doesn’t shack up with Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), a feisty heiress that is interested in uniting the wealth of the two families and pleasing the valued investors. Arthur reluctantly accepts the proposal until he meets Naomi (Gerwig), who turns his world upside down. While Arthur struggles to find it in himself to part with his inheritance and earn something of his own, his immaturity puts the blossoming relationship he so desperately needs in peril.
With Peter Baynham (Borat) writing and Jason Winer (Modern Family) making his feature film debut behind the camera, one should expect a certain immature humor that aligns with Brand’s playful crassness. While toned down to secure the PG-13 rating, Brand seems just as happy to make humorous observations about the world around him. A recurring gag is for Arthur to point out a passerby’s similarity to a famous person with a stereotype twist. If you’ve ever wanted to see a lesbian version of Hall and Oates, you’re in luck.
However, if you’re looking for some true chemistry in this romantic comedy, you might want to look elsewhere. Gerwig’s Naomi is a pleasure to watch on screen, and there is even a fun connection you can feel between Arthur and her. But that hardly qualifies as romance. Instead we get the type of innocent fireworks that seem fit for grade school, not grown adults. The tone seems to be at fault, but Winer’s polish from television should have helped avoid that obstacle. Unfortunately, Arthur continually smashes head-long into it.
Then there is the attempt at genuine heart. Mirren’s Hobson has an endless supply of patience and while Mirren hardly shows it on screen, there is a sense of ease with Brand. Her stern hand constantly clashes with his wild nature in humorous ways, but when things take a turn for the worse, Brand is incapable of carrying the emotional arc more than a few scenes. Additionally, there is darkness surrounding an alcoholic billionaire, but it never receives more than a few cursory references. Arthur could have just as easily been a free-spirited billionaire high on life, but the adherence to the original’s boozing theme rings hollow here.
If one were to look for remakes that carve their own identity equal or greater than their forebears, Arthur wouldn’t likely make the cut. The problem isn’t that the film lacks humor; Brand and Baynham have made sure that you’ll laugh. Instead, there is a void where there should be emotion, and the tonal shift from comedy to romantic comedy never feels complete. While this may be a minor hiccup for most involved, it’s an unfortunate start for Winer’s film career. Hopefully someone learned a lesson that sometimes it’s better to earn something for yourself than work off of other people’s plots.