Russell Brand reinvents the role of lovable billionaire Arthur Bach, an irresponsible charmer who has always relied on two things to get by: his limitless fortune and lifelong nanny Hobson (Academy Award® winner* Helen Mirren) to keep him out of trouble. Now he faces his biggest challenge: choosing between an arranged marriage to ambitious corporate exec Susan (Jennifer Garner) that will ensure his lavish lifestyle, or an uncertain future with the one thing money can’t buy – Naomi (Greta Gerwig), his true love. With Naomi’s inspiration and some unconventional help from Hobson, Arthur will take the most expensive risk of his life and learn what it means to be a man in this re-imagining of the beloved Oscar®-winning* romantic comedy Arthur.
As a high-concept Hollywood pitch, remaking the charming Dudley Moore 1981 comic romp about a man-child billionaire playboy with a rather serious drinking problem and installing Russell Brand as the new lead sounded like a pretty good idea. With Brand's reputation as a semi-reformed bad boy and actual recovering alcoholic/addict (not to mention his parlayed success from English standup fame to movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall
and Get Him to the Greek
), he was a great casting choice to reprise Moore's devilishly innocent character. In many ways Brand is among the heirs to first-wave loony British comics like Moore, Peter Sellers, and Spike Milligan, along with actors like Steve Coogan, Eddie Izzard, and Ricky Gervais. But something happened in the 30-year translation that has deflated a lot of charm from the 2011 Arthur
. Brand is probably the best thing about the movie, although he's never quite able to capture the characterization of a genuinely agreeable immature cad that Moore portrayed so adorably. This is Russell Brand playing another version of himself, which isn't such a bad thing, just not quite adorable enough. Brand is a smart, funny, and quick-on-his-feet improviser, and lot of that comes through, but he'd probably be the first to admit that he's no Dudley Moore.
The basics of the story remain unchanged. Arthur Bach is a trust fund child who is stuck in childhood, even though his pampered bubble of wealth now brings him toys like prostitutes, famous movie prop cars (the Batmobile, the Back to the Future DeLorean, the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine, and others all make appearances), and all manner of grownup baubles at every fleeting whim. His stuck-in-childhood mode seems to be blamed on the loss of his doting father at a very young age. But now at 30, his prim mother (Geraldine James) wants him to grow up, stop embarrassing the huge corporation that bears their name, and marry a respectable girl (Jennifer Garner) who will tame him and give the company a veneer of respectability. Upon threat of being cut off from the family fortune, Arthur reluctantly agrees, but then immediately falls for the real girl of his dreams, a lowly--and poor--Manhattan tour guide (Greta Gerwig), who falls for him too. She doesn't even care about the money. The issue of drink is handled somewhat differently 30 years after Dudley Moore made such a loveable and unrepentant chronic inebriant. Since it's kind of a more significant societal issue, the filmmakers haven't really been able to make it as much of a fun and funny part of who Arthur is (plus, Dudley Moore did a drunken shtick that was fairly classic, while there doesn't seem to be much difference between Brand's drunken and sober Arthur). Arthur's drinking is treated as a genuine problem in this update, which also provides comedy the dilemma of dealing with seriousness. Fortunately the sense of forward momentum, Brand's general likeability, and the pervading sunny tone cover up a lot. The other big selling point and major change from the original is the character of Hobson, who for Dudley Moore was a dour butler played by John Gielgud, and for Russell Brand is a disapproving nanny in the persona of Helen Mirren. Both Hobsons were best friends to Arthur, and Mirren's statuesque gravitas brings a lot to the authentic lifelong affection that seems real as handled by both actors. Overlooking some slackness in the script, Brand and Mirren give this bright, shiny updated Arthur longer legs than it might otherwise have had in striding cleverly into audiences' hearts. --Ted Fry