Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) is a billionaire socialite who lives to have fun and squander as much of his mother’s money as possible. To that end, he’s very successful, and he’s amassed enough notches on his bedpost to reduce even the largest California king-sized bed to nothing but slivers.
Arthur’s got one problem: he’s never had to grow up. He’s an embarrassment to the family corporation, he’s an embarrassment to his mother and family, and he’s squandering his considerable wealth and intelligence on a life of drunken debauchery. Arthur is like Paris Hilton, but with charm, no sex tapes, and no felony convictions.
The gravy train is about to end. Arthur’s mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), has given him an ultimatum. Arthur is either to marry Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), the daughter of a self-made millionaire and an ambitious social climber, or lose $950 million in trust fund money. Arthur agrees, reluctantly, but when he meets the woman of his dreams, an unlicensed tour guide and wannabe children’s book author, Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a wrench is thrown in the plans. Now Arthur has to choose between keeping his money and following his heart.
If there’s one thing you can say about this version of Arthur, it’s that it bears little resemblance to the Dudley Moore version of the same story. Yes, he’s a hard-drinking, very wealthy womanizer, but Russell Brand’s Arthur seems to be more like Billy Madison, in the sense that the film’s a little less reality-based and a little more outlandish. The premise is still the same, but the execution seems very different, and tailored more to Russell Brand’s unique style than the original was tailored to Dudley Moore. Of course, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original Arthur, so I very well could be wrong.
Russell Brand is kind of a weird person. Or rather, he’s a weird character. Everything we know about Russell Brand’s life suggests that he’s actually Arthur. Or was Arthur at one point, before getting married to a pop star and cleaning up his life. So, it goes without saying that he’s pretty good at playing Arthur, just as he was pretty good when playing Aldous Snow. He’s witty and charming enough for the role, and he infuses Arthur with some interesting physical elements (owing to Brand’s Muppet-like construction) as well as the sort of outlandish clothing that Dudley Moore never would have dreamed of.
Still, it seems a bit too easy, doesn’t it? I mean, Russell Brand as Arthur? He may as well be playing himself again, or Aldous Snow again.
The cast around Brand is pretty good. Jennifer Garner is delightfully strange as the new version of the money-grubbing Susan. Luis Guzman provides a few chuckles as Bitterman, Arthur’s loyal driver. The butler Hobson, has been replaced by the nanny Hobson, which makes it a little strange, but it also plays more into this new Arthur’s youthfulness and indolence. Plus, there’s Helen Mirren, who is just great in general. She provides all the emotional grounding that Arthur needs, plus a little bit of extra amusing sarcasm. It’s obvious that she’s seen everything Arthur can throw at her, and is unfazed by any of it.
Director Jason Winer is a TV veteran and that shows in a lot of the shots used in Arthur. Granted, it’s not a movie that requires a bold cinematographer or any directorial tricks with the camera. It’s a straightforward story and gets appropriately straightforward direction, with one or two interesting visual shots of Arthur’s apartment in mid-party. Bonus points for excellent use of New York City’s architecture and notable features.
The script, from British TV writer and frequent Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator, Peter Baynham, mines quite a bit of chuckles from Arthur’s shenanigans, but not a whole lot of belly laughs. Arthur, like a lot of comedies, falls victim to the plight of having some of the funnier moments spoiled by the commercials and trailers. Still, it’s funny, and is sweet enough to make Arthur’s emotional turnaround worthwhile.
While Arthur is a comedy of excess, featuring a very excessive star, it’s not excessively funny. It’s amusing, but Russell Brand’s act starts to get a little bit old after the second act of the film, and Arthur’s turnaround at the last moment doesn’t wring out as many chuckles as might be expected. That said, it has moments enough to make it worth watching if you’re desperate for a comedy fix or just adore Russell Brand.