How you react to Arthur will largely depend on your expectations. If you’ve never seen, or heard of, the 1981 movie Arthur you might find the new movie of the same name fairly entertaining. But if you have fond memories of the original, written and directed by Steve Gordon, you’ll know the truth: this occasionally amusing film can’t compare to the original, which was flat-out hilarious, with plum parts for Dudley Moore, as a childlike billionaire, and John Gielgud, as his long-suffering valet and caretaker. The best part of the new movie is the inspired casting of Russell Brand and Helen Mirren in the leading roles.
I also liked Greta Gerwig (who graduated from mumblecore movies to a breakout role in—
—Greenberg) as the sprite who captures Arthur’s heart and makes him unwilling to marry his mother’s business protégé. Jennifer Garner tackles this unsympathetic and generally thankless part.
The new script, by Peter Baynham, has its fair share of funny lines and winning moments, but it starts out on the wrong foot by having Arthur and his chauffeur (Luis Guzmán) driving the Batmobile through the streets of Manhattan. Such an outlandish (and unexplained) scene makes it difficult to believe that the story has any basis in reality, and hampers the film—and our ability to find something relatable in it—for quite a while, until the comedy finds its rhythm and we come to like its three main characters.
One more debit cannot go unnoticed, however: Arthur is an exceptionally unattractive movie. It doesn’t flatter any of its actors and, like far too many recent releases, makes indiscriminate use of closeups. Perhaps the choice of cinematographer Uta Briesewitz, whose credits include the gritty cable series The Wire, was unwise for a romantic comedy that’s meant to play out like a modern-day fairy tale.