Film Review: Arthur

Steve Gordon’s 1981 romantic comedy gets an update in this Russell Brand vehicle. Not as charming as the original, the new Arthur is passably entertaining.

Arthur is a multi-millionaire who has never had to work and relies upon his nanny Hobson and driver Bitterman to look after him. Arthur’s mother issues him with an ultimatum; marry businesswoman Susan or be cut off from his fortune. Arthur reluctantly agrees, but is torn when he meets Naomi…

Arthur is a fairly enjoyable movie. There are scenes which are a lot of fun, but the film could have been trimmed. Jason Winer’s film lacks loses its drive once or twice; the ending in particular feels more drawn out than it should be. There is humour, but most of the jokes are mildly amusing rather than raucously so. The film is not as funny as it thinks it is.

Although this remake retains the basic plot of the original, a number of elements have changed. The dominant shift appears to make Arthur more contemporary. This pertains to modern references; Arthur and Bitterman drive through the streets of New York in a Batmobile in one scene. More so than this, however, is the perceptible shift to ensure the film is palatable to a modern audience.

The Arthur of the 1981 film was a drunk, but a lovable one. In this version, Arthur’s alcoholism takes centre stage at times. It is dealt with as a serious problem, rather than a personality quirk. There is none of the drinking and driving of the original. Winer’s film is more concerned with showing the negative side, whilst also being responsible with what it depicts. Although driving under the influence is a serious matter, it is rather sad that towing the line has meant some of the enjoyment has been removed from the original.

Similarly, the depiction of women in the 2011 film indicates the socio-cultural shift since the early 1980s. Arthur’s love interest Naomi needs to be successful in her own right rather than rely upon Arthur’s obscene wealth. Linda in the 1981 Arthur had more attitude than her contemporary counterpart, but there was no such requirement for her to be a big earner independently. These changes may appease some, but they rather suck the fun out of proceedings.

Russell Brand is a more infantilised character than Dudley Moore’s Arthur. He has good chemistry with Helen Mirren and Greta Gerwig. Helen Mirren is suitably stoic as Hobson, while Jennifer Garner is great as the overbearing Susan.

Arthur has its moments, but is not a patch on the original. The lack of spontaneity is replaced with a sombre air that works fine in the context, but is not as lively as it should be.