It’s a hard row for a remake to hoe. People are hypercritical about your film before even the first reel is unspooled. It’s a case of dealing with resentment because the film was remade at all, added to the automatic, albeit not entirely fair, comparisons to the original film.
This wasn’t a problem for me with Arthur. The original film was far enough removed in my memory that the distance allowed me to view the film out of fresh eyes. However, two other problems were more of a concern–my general dislike of Russell Brand as an actor and my general malaise towards Jennifer Garner as an actress. He seems like a smug, yet crude shock comic in other roles, and she is, well, just there in a lot of things I’ve seen her in.
That being said, both overcome my preconceived notions about them and deliver great performances in an above average remake.
Arthur Bach (Brand) is the male equivalent of the Paris Hilton/Kim Kardashian type of celebutante. He is constantly drunk, constantly partying, and constantly getting in trouble with the law. This serves as an embarrassment for mom Vivian (Geraldine James), who finds all investors in the family business scared off by Arthur’s antics. She gives him an ultimatum–marry former flame Susan Johnson (Garner) or be cut off from his multimillion dollar inheritance. Complicating matters a great deal is that Arthur takes a fancy to fellow free spirit and illegal Grand Central Station tour guide Naomi (Greta Gerwig).
Brand plays Arthur as a man-child who is naive, yet smart, sarcastic, yet romantic. He is pitch perfect in the role, charming and witty while exhibiting the most self-destructive behavior imaginable. His Arthur is immediately likable and exasperating at the same time, yet someone who you root for throughout the film.
Helen Mirren delivers the her standard great performance as the acerbic Hobson, now Arthur’s nanny who has kept her job well into adulthood. And Gerwig is absolutely charming (as she has to be) as Naomi. Garner instills the her role as the shrewish harridan with notes of grace and humanity. She has reasons for the way she behaves, and that make her role more believable.
And that’s one of the things that the film has going for it. Every character is fully realized. Enough is revealed about their pasts that you can see how and why they became the people in the film. These aren’t caricatures, these are fully formed people.
There are gags aplenty, ranging all the way from broad slapstick to jaunty one-liners and witty rejointers. Each works. There are plenty of laugh-out loud moments here, if you are open to them.
So, all in all, great performances and better than average writing come together to make a great remake that stands on its own.