Just the word 'remake' is enough to turn some people off, and throw in a British comedian who hasn't fully caught on with American audiences to handle the heavy load of playing a hedonistic, alcoholic, billionaire playboy and the odds for success are stacked against this 2011 take on '81s critically acclaimed film. Add a first time director, Jason Winer, to the mix and those odds take another hit. And, of course, the fact the film centers around a man who can buy anything he wants, who gorges himself on pleasure and drink, in these hard economic times is also a tough sell. Warner Bros' new Arthur has a lot of strikes against it before the opening credits even roll.
The story remains nearly the same, with Brand playing Arthur Bach, the sole heir to a fortune who's been raised by a nanny (Mirren) and is detached from his all-business mother (Geraldine James). Arthur goes about life without a care in the world, but after one particularly embarrassing run-in with the police, his mother demands he either marry Susan (Jennifer Garner), a Type-A personality fully capable of running the family business in Arthur's stead, or else he'll be cut off and disinherited.
Arthur agrees to the marriage, despite the fact he's not attracted to Susan, because he can't live without the money. However, when he runs into an unlicensed tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig), Arthur discovers he's stuck between following his heart into the poor house or retaining his luxurious lifestyle alongside a woman he'll never love.
Brand doesn't try to mimic Moore's performance and instead creates his own Arthur, a quirky man-child whose possessions include a hover bed and the Batmobile. This is a side of Brand we haven't seen before; Arthur shows there's more to this British comedian/actor than previously revealed. Brand's own battles with addiction seem to have slip into the character of a spoiled, self-indulgent man who always has alcohol within arm's reach. His Arthur isn't Moore's Arthur, but it's still a character who tugs a little at our hearts due to his disarming vulnerability.
Swapping genders and placing Mirren as Arthur's guardian and best friend was a bit of inspired casting. Mirren brings a real warmth and maternal protectiveness to the part, plus she's a natural with the stiff-upper lip delivery as she chastises Arthur into reluctantly accepting the fact he needs to act his age.
In supporting roles, Jennifer Garner plays a woman so obsessed with getting ahead she's willing to settle for a loveless marriage to a guy who freely tells her how much he loathes her. Garner gets to let her character's crazy flag fly, and she's terrific going toe-to-toe with Brand. Indie film actress Greta Gerwig takes on the role played by Liza Minnelli in the '81 version of Arthur, and as Brand's Arthur falls for this adorable young woman from a working class family, so does the audience. The camera loves her face and Gerwig lights up the screen with her take on this sweet girl who falls for the extravagant yet child-like Arthur.
The Bottom Line
It's possible that my lowered expectations for this remake played into the fact this Arthur actually worked for me. It's not a laugh-a-minute romcom and it doesn't live up to the comic heights reached by its predecessor, but 2011's Arthur stands on its own as a sweet romantic comedy with heart. Will we remember this Arthur as fondly in 30 years as we do the original? Absolutely not. If we remember this Arthur in 3 years, it'll be a minor miracle. But 2011's Arthur is energetic and fun, a likable enough comedy that's faithful to the original film while not attempting to be a carbon copy.
Arthur was directed by Jason Winer and is rated PG-13 for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references.
Theatrical Release: April 8, 2011