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Movie Review: Arthur (PG-13)

arthurBy: Roxana Hadadi

‘Arthur’ lets Russell Brand be himself – and for the most part, that’s a good idea.

 After seeing “Arthur,” I can get why Katy Perry married Russell Brand. There’s a cavalier charm to the guy, a devil-may-care attitude that defines his leading turn in “Arthur” and almost makes me forget that just a few years ago he was addicted to sex, heroin and alcohol. Almost.

But given that experience, he captures the hedonistic, childlike nature of the film’s protagonist – Arthur, a 30-year-old heir to nearly $1 billion who does whatever he wants, including swigging whiskey at breakfast and driving around town in the Batmobile – pretty perfectly. A remake of the 1981 film starring British actor Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli, this version keeps most of the right elements in place (a cold mother, an opportunistic fiancee, a nice girl from the poor side of town) while also capitalizing on Brand’s absurdity and his chemistry with costar Helen Mirren. If you don’t like Brand’s smarmy sense of humor and random asides, you won’t be able to stand the smirks and smugness he gives “Arthur” – but everyone grows up eventually, and in this film, Brand does that well, too.

Wealthy playboys pop up everywhere in film – from the greedy Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” and its 2010 sequel “Money Never Sleeps” to the self-important blonde Steff in “Pretty in Pink” to even cute little Richie Rich – and Arthur Bach (Brand) is their Peter Pan-like king. He sleeps in a bed made of magnets, often with prostitutes or party girls who try to steal his Rolex or priceless antiques. New York City police officers know him by name, and aren’t surprised when he bails everyone out of jail because he thinks it’s unfair that most of them can’t afford it. And he makes his nanny Hobson (Mirren) read him bedtime stories every night, especially from the Frog and Toad series, children’s books by author Arnold Lobel. As Hobson sniffs, “He’s merely shaped like an adult,” one with a particularly addictive personality.

But Arthur’s mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) is getting tired of his antics, so she gives him an ultimatum: Either shape up and marry finance and philanthropy up-and-comer Susan (Jennifer Garner), who Vivienne thinks will help Arthur lead Bach Worldwide, or forfeit his entire inheritance. Since Arthur is prone to withdrawing thousands of dollars from ATMs at a time and outbidding himself at auctions just for amusement, he agrees to marry Susan, even though they dated for three months one time and he can’t stand her inability to hold a conversation. When $950 million is on the line, what else are you supposed to do?

True love, though, falls into Arthur’s lap at Grand Central station, where he bumps into Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring author who runs an unlicensed tour of Manhattan so she can support her father. Her normalness and down-to-earth personality resonate with Arthur, and soon he’s seriously considering leaving the money behind so he can be with her. Hobson, though, is more wary, and her skepticism and yearning for Arthur to grow up and survive on his own suggest a caring that is deeper than pure professionalism.

Previews have made “Arthur” seem like a kid-friendly flick about Brand goofily waltzing around town with a weird hairdo, but he isn’t like Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow – this PG-13 film isn’t really as light-hearted as all that. It veers from drama to romantic comedy to medical tearjerker, and though the end drags a little, it’s more emotionally engaging than you’d expect. Most of the major plot twists are what happened in the original 1981 film, so if you’ve seen “Arthur” before, you won’t be surprised. Older teens and parents should be able to laugh and emote together, but for younger teens coming in blind, expect some tears when a major character passes away. Also expect lots of jokes about sex, genitalia, drug and alcohol use and prostitution; much drinking; an attempted sex scene with some S&M overtones that goes awry and implied nudity at some points; and some sobering lessons about addiction and the importance of parental guidance and love. Bad boys act out for a reason, you know, and Arthur is no exception.

Who else could have worked in this role but Brand? It’s hard to say. In “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and somewhat-sequel “Get Him to the Greek,” we saw Brand in a similar role as an unhinged rocker struggling to find his identity through a haze of addiction and loneliness, but “Arthur” brings more humanism and will elicit more empathy. He nails the sarcastic lines – “I remember you from when I used to live in your womb,” he tells his mother – and clicks well with Mirren, whose frosty coldness hides inner warmth. She holds her own against his barbs, and no one except that kid in the Volkswagen commercial has looked better as Darth Vader. There are some missteps from others (like Nick Nolte, who is too paunchy to be intimidating as power-hungry Susan’s threatening father), but the relationship between Arthur and Hobson is a believable central focus for the film.

There are some who won’t like “Arthur” because of Brand, whose lankiness and silliness can turn some people off. It’s true that it’s sometimes hard to tell him apart from his characters, since they often have the same personality traits he seems to hold in real life: an off-kilter sense of humor, a disregard for other people’s sense of politeness or decorum, a penchant for not washing his hair. But while Brand certainly isn’t a Daniel Day-Lewis-level actor, it’s a greater show of range from a guy we’ve only really seen as a bumbling mess until this point, and when has Mirren ever done wrong? (Just forget that movie with her as a madam running a brothel, 2010’s “Love Ranch.” I’m sure Mirren would like to.)





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