When a movie like Arthur comes along, I can’t help but sigh. Is the 1981 original really worthy of an update? No matter how you cut it, I would argue it isn’t. While a popular comedy in its own right, its name is not recognizable enough among all generations to ensure a high number of ticket sales, but more importantly, it holds up remarkably well. It isn’t a film that has degraded with time and needs a modern retelling. So who exactly is this remake of Arthur for?
Taking the role from Dudley Moore in the original is Russell Brand as the titular character. He’s the wealthy son of Vivienne, played by Geraldine James, who supplies him with endless amounts of cash ($950 million if we’re being exact) for him to live his life the way he wants. However, she has grown tired of his slacker ways and has become embarrassed by his confrontations with the law. His public troubles are hurting her company, so she tells him she is cutting him off unless she marries Susan, played by Jennifer Garner, a woman she hopes will set Arthur straight. Unfortunately, Arthur doesn’t love Susan, but agrees to go through with it anyway to keep the cash. However, he soon meets Naomi, played by Greta Gerwig, the love of his life, and he finds himself torn between love and money.
There are two things this remake does better than the original. In regards to the cast, Gerwig is infinitely more likable than the bland (yet inexplicably popular) Liza Minnelli. She has a radiant onscreen presence and, along with her performance in last year’s Greenberg, has catapulted herself to the head of America’s sweethearts. She is to die for and conveys a type of innocence that is all but missing from women in the cinema these days.
The other step up is that the romance in this update is sweeter and better developed. While largely thanks to Gerwig, it also helps that the Arthur character isn’t as obnoxious here. In the original, he was loud and grating, stumbling over his words and his feet as he drank himself stupid. It was never entirely clear why Minnelli’s character fell for Arthur, but it’s understandable in the remake. Although he does drink and can sometimes be a little too much to handle, his crazy antics rarely reach the unpleasantries of his 1981 counterpart.
The problem is that those crazy antics are what made that movie so darn funny. The romance may have been a bit weak, but its main goal was to make you laugh and it succeeded. That prioritization is the same in the remake, but it only gets the less important romance parts right while the jokes strain to get the slightest reaction from its audience. A few are undeniably funny, but the rest are lazy, boring and obvious.
A lot of the original’s charm and laughs came from the butler character, played by John Gielgud (who won an Oscar for the role), but that charm is entirely missing here. Instead, the role is taken over by Helen Mirren, who laces her lines with contempt. Rather than coming off as cynical, yet playful as she is supposed to, she simply comes off as mean. So when the time comes for the inevitable late movie bonding scenes, they feel forced and fake.
To continue along with this doesn’t-live-up-to-the-original rant, Brand is simply a poor replacement for Dudley Moore. He has given me plenty of laughs in the past in movies like Get Him to the Greek, but he is strangely subdued here, probably because he is forced to restrain himself to keep with the PG-13 rating. Aside from the previously mentioned positives, everything in this remake (including those left unmentioned) is a step down from the original. I suppose those who haven’t seen it may find something worth watching here, but if you’re like me, there’s really no comparing the two.
Arthur receives 2/5