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Why “Arthur”? Why now? Discussing 2011’s most important film with Michael and Adam

Why "Arthur"? Why now? Discussing 2011’s most important film with Michael and Adam

MK: Adam, you saw Arthur, our planned Monday Hangover title, I assume, largely because you were invited to an advance critics’ screening and didn’t have to pay. The thought of plunking down 13 bucks to see Jason Winer’s remake of a film that I’ve seen easily more than ten times in my life made my liver hurt. Plus, there was a pretty nifty De Palma series going on this weekend at BAM that precluded my choosing to see bad movies over good ones. I must say, though, despite my distrust of this particular remake and my childish love of the original, this is hardly untouchable material, and nothing to feel overly protective about. People get up in arms about remakes on general principle, because purism is held as an inherent virtue in this day and age. Studio remakes are generally done to horror films or comedies because the built-in set piece sensationalism of those two genres lends itself well to the do-over-but-bigger shock mentality that fuels these projects: more creative kills, more uproarious jokes, all better attuned to the litmuses of our cultural moments.

But the original Arthur doesn’t have any wow moments; it’s all about the actor’s slurred charm. I just really don’t care to see impish Dudley Moore taffy-stretched into Russell Brand: his head caught elephantitis, his legs and arms evidently put on the medieval rack, the length of his teeth doubled at the very least. Charming little Moore, as the drunken, carefree playboy millionaire, seemed to don a top hat to give himself an additional few inches of height; with his chapeau, Brand looks like a demon scarecrow eloped from some Rob Zombie movie. The original was a performer showcase not only for Moore but also for the nimble actors who satellite around him. Here, instead of John Gielgud as butler Hobson we have Helen Mirren, whose pursed-lip, aged naughtiness is at this point de rigueur, and replacing shoplifting Italian-American Liza Minnelli is the sweet-faced goofball Greta Gerwig, cast seemingly for both indie cred and because one would need to be bunny-rabbit naïve (or burlap-sack dull) to even consider falling for Brand’s brand of charisma.

AN: You’ll surely be delighted to know that in addition to Mirren’s mercenary participation, Nick Nolte puts a down payment on a walk-in humidor with a cameo as the surly construction magnate who would be Arthur’s father-in-law, and Jennifer Garner is stranded in the sort of psycho-hosebeast role recently trademarked by Lucy Punch. Perhaps she was cast for her height; both she and Gerwig (whose bunny-rabbit naiveté was better deployed in Greenberg) are among the few American actresses who can stand next to Russell Brand without looking Lilliputian (recall the physical discrepancy between him and Kristen Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was at least played for laughs during their athletically choreographed sex scenes). I warmed to Brand a little bit in Get Him to the Greek, a truly slovenly comedy with enough space between the plot points to accommodate the sporadic non sequiturs that are a hallmark of his stand-up. (I remember his medicated rock star being chased down a long hallway and, deeming it “Kubrickian”—an ad-lib if there ever was one). In Arthur, though, he’s tasked with playing somewhere between obnoxious and adorable, the comedian’s equivalent of being caught between the Moon and New York City—which is to say stranded in no man’s land.

MK: Though Moore is fondly remembered (as Brand surely will not be), Arthur still gets a bit of flack for its lack of editorializing about its main boozehound’s clearly demented and surely eventually fatal way of life. At its close, Linda goes off with him and his hundreds of millions, and there’s no indication that she wants to reform him; in all likelihood she will enable him and enjoy his sodden outbursts until the cirrhosis kicks in. Whether we can get away with this kind of delightfully demoralized ending in 2011 is something I don’t really care to find out.

AN: “Delightfully demoralized ending,” indeed. Having actually seen Arthur 2.0, I can confirm that the cynical sentimentality of the original’s conclusion has been retained and made even more extreme. Faced with the prospect of losing the only thing he cares about (that’d be Ms. Gerwig) our hero vows to rid himself of the things that tempt him slightly less, kissing his family fortune goodbye and signing up for AA (where the other weathered alcoholics are unaccountably delighted to listen to his tales of trust fund–fueled debauchery). Having thus set a world-cinema land speed record for character reformation, Arthur goes to get the girl back, is accepted as a pauper and then reveals he’s still stanky rich: all that’s missing as they drive off into the sunset is him reaching into the glove compartment for some Glenlivet.

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