“Arthur” draws some laughs, but little else

“Arthur” is funny in parts, but lacks basic understanding of what makes comedy successful.

Arthur draws some laughs, but little else

David Hoffman, Writer

Comedy is a genre that doesn’t really bode well to critique. It doesn’t need dynamic camera angles, expertly crafted characters, or any of the other traditional elements that pretentious film snobs (ahem) like to pick apart. At its most basic level, it just needs to be funny. Most people know this, but it’s really quite unfortunate that the creators of “Arthur” didn’t seem to get the memo.

Predictable plot

“Arthur” stars Russell Brand, an actor best known for his show-stealing role as Aldous Snow, the womanizing rock star from 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” He manages to play an even more infantile character in this role as Arthur Bach, a middle-aged millionaire whose only adult quality is the amount of alcohol that he drinks. He sleeps with a light-up planet mobile above his bed, buys historical relics on impulse, and owns a host of life-sized movie car replicas.

Arthur’s only real friend is his nanny played by Helen Mirren, and it isn’t hard to see why. He has little regard for those around him and speaks in a high-pitched nasal accent that makes you think that you might not know exactly where it’s from, but you really hope you never have to listen to anyone else from there. He lives his life, as one would expect the average eight-year-old to live if he had exorbitant amounts of money. Held in place with the threat of losing his inheritance, he is engaged to marry Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), a cold ice queen whose only real interest is in the social prestige. When Arthur meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a quirky unlicensed tour guide, he must make the decision between his money and his happiness.

Promising cast

It’s always impressive when an actor manages to be both annoying and likable, and Brand’s performance is a prime example. He shuffles around in removed stupor, shouting witty one-liners left and right, and it’s ultimately the one-liners that this film splurges in. Brand is able throw out a witty retort to every situation, like a scruffy and less neurotic Woody Allen.

Mirren is also a great pleasure to watch, managing to project both the external coldness of a hired nanny and the occasional flashes of projected warmth in a way that feels natural. Garner is forgettable, but sufficient in her role. The major weak link of the cast, however, is Gerwig, an actress who seems to have been pulled from community theater, as Arthur’s true love interest Naomi. She gives off an aura of bland quirkiness and little else. Nick Nolte has a brief part as Johnson’s father in which he manages to be about as creepy and unnerving as he is in real life.

Late character development confusing to plot

The film, as previously stated, is very funny. The last third or so of the film takes on a serious tone, something that nearly derails the entire thing. We are now expected to fundamentally care about the characters that we previously saw only as vessels for laughter. It’s a bit like watching circus clowns trying to do opera, awkward and boring. It seems as though the writer decided to give each character an individual story arc after most of the film had been written. The result is a number of changes of heart that have no progression, come out of nowhere, and leave as quickly as they came. The drama fails and only proves to take away from the fun to be had by the audience.

Ultimately, “Arthur” is a film that doesn’t see where its strengths are and simply tries too hard. When it’s funny, it’s witty and engaging. When the laughs end, however, there is little else to keep one’s attention.

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