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[BASP] Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon) / Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1987, Bud Yorkin)

The Best of An Alan Smithee Podcast: Episode Twenty-seven

Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon) / Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1987, Bud Yorkin)

Originally posted: January 3, 2014

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Arthur (2011, Jason Winer)

My Thin Man affection aside, I’m not against sobriety. However, Russell Brand movies integrate the glory of AA to the point it hurts the film (Get Him to the Greek made a similar move at a similar time). The development hurts Arthur, somewhat significantly. It’s good the film has Greta Gerwig, as she pulls it through.

The film is a very pleasant surprise; Brand has shown he can be endearing while still being raucous, but this film is the first I’ve seen where it suggests he might actually be able to act as well. He’s mostly acting opposite Helen Mirren or Gerwig, so he definitely has a lot of support.

The approach helps. Of course it’s nowhere near as good as the original, but it doesn’t compete. Between Brand, Gerwig and Mirren, it engenders a totally different response.

A lot of the film is Mirren’s show—it’s funny because of her responses to Brand. Her career’s gotten so much more interesting as she’s taken these varied roles.

Gerwig’s excellent. Since I’d never seen her before, I was pleasantly surprised, but Arthur has two other big surprises. First, Jennifer Garner’s fantastic. It’s like she was born to play a (realistic) heartless harpy. The other surprise is Nick Nolte (in a small role as Garner’s father). He’s atrocious. I’m not sure they even bothered making sure he was awake.

Winer’s direction is good, very calm and self-aware.

I was hopeful for Arthur, but it’s better than I thought it could be.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jason Winer; written by Peter Baynham, based on the film by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Uta Briesewitz; edited by Brent White; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Sarah Knowles; produced by J.C. Spink, Russell Brand, Larry Brezner, Kevin McCormick, Chris Bender and Michael Tadross; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Russell Brand (Arthur), Helen Mirren (Hobson), Greta Gerwig (Naomi), Jennifer Garner (Susan), Geraldine James (Vivienne), Luis Guzmán (Bitterman) and Nick Nolte (Burt Johnson).


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Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon)

Steve Gordon died the year after Arthur came out, so he never made any other films, which is an exceptional tragedy. Arthur is a singular comedy–it’s a mix of laugh-out-loud comedy, romantic comedy, sincere human relationships and genuine character development. The first two are not mutually exclusive, but I’m not even sure Woody Allen’s managed to combine them with the second two (two of Woody’s regular producers, in fact, produced Arthur). Gordon frequently gets affecting hilarious scenes going–usually involving John Gielgud–and the film’s a joy to watch.

For the last third, Gordon takes a hint from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and sets everything at one location. (Oddly, as Dudley Moore shuffles in–the character’s a complete drunk and Moore’s got some incredible bits with how far he’ll go to protect his alcohol–I thought it’d be interesting if Gordon did the Deeds close, but didn’t even realize he had until I started typing this post up). It’s a good format for the close, but also the only part where Gordon stumbles. He offers the film’s most profound moments, then shies away. Worse, he continues this absurd life-threatening subplot, which kind of worked as a joke in a scene in the middle, but at the end… it had me thinking about framed bellboys instead of the movie itself.

The acting in the film is all excellent. Gielgud’s performance as Moore’s exasperated but loving butler is exceptional. The scenes with him and Moore are all great, just getting better as the film goes along. Moore, as the leading man, is a comic genius–he can make his heel of a character utterly sympathetic from the first moment on film. Also great are Anne De Salvo, Ted Ross and Barney Martin. Strangely–or maybe not–Liza Minnelli’s best scenes are the ones without Moore. She and Moore are good together, but they’re very cute, and when it’s her and Martin or her and Gielgud, the scenes just have a lot more resonance. It’s a romantic comedy, of course she’s got to have scenes with Moore, but the rest of her scenes–even the brief second watching her at work–are when it’s obvious Gordon was really writing the character.

For a while, I thought Arthur was going to be that supreme example I’d compare all other popular comedies against. The way Gordon serves actual human regard with the funny stuff, it’s incredibly rare (because the laughs Gordon goes for are cheap, popular laughs). So, it might not be the ultimate comparison, but it’s still great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Fred Schuler; edited by Susan E. Morse; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Charles H. Joffe; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Jill Eikenberry (Susan Johnson), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla), Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach) and Anne De Salvo (Gloria).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ARTHUR (1981) / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS (1987).