Who is this Russell Brand guy, anyways? It seems like only yesterday I had never heard of the scrawny, over-enunciating, seldom bathed Brit, and already he's something of a household name. But whose choice was that? Unlike other rising stars of comedy in the last few years like Seth Rogen and Zach Galifianakis, Brand doesn't actually appear to have that much of a following stateside, his biggest hits, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and last summer's spin-off Get Him to the Greek, each only just inching past sixty million dollars domestic. Sure, the recent Hop, in which Brand lends his voice to an animated rendition of the Easter Bunny's son, is technically his highest grossing feature, but is that something you really want to brag about? This kind of thing is seen all the time in the music industry, but seldom at the flicks: The big-wigs in some far away office building deciding what we like for us, rather than taking our cues and following suit. The Hollywood machine grinds on, and here he is yet again, starring in the 2011 update of Arthur, whether you wanted it or not.
Brand occupies the titular role, an heir to a multi-billion dollar company who also happens to be a boy trapped in a man's body. A spend thrift if ever there was one, and a drunkard to top them all, Arthur is without match when it comes to attracting press, and his straight-laced, CEO mother (Geraldine James) has had enough. Fearing for her company, she offers Arthur an ultimatum: marry type-A business lady Susan (Jennifer Garner), or lose his inheritance. Not about to throw away his cash just yet, Arthur agrees, but as he goes through the motions of the wedding preparation, he meets and falls for a kindred spirit, train station tour guide Naomi (Greta Gerwig). The two strike up a not-so-secret relationship, Arthur attempting to diffuse the situation between swigs of vodka and whisky.
Arthur is the debut feature from TV guy Jason Winer, and for the most part, one can hardly tell. The movie is essentially a romantic comedy, and as such, Winer moves it along at a nice pace, a few bubbly pop-songs and shots of glowing faces proving that he at least knows the motions. He's a subtle but promising craftsman, and though nothing about the movie's production really stands out, it's a smooth product that goes down easy. Of course, it never hurts to have this kind of cast. Besides the players listed above, Arthur also boasts of a warm and empathetic turn by Helen Mirren, and an enjoyably over-the-top Nick Nolte. Add to this Gerwig, an actress well-versed in single-handedly elevating the quality of her movies, who's breezy/sexy/charming/natural dream girl goes a long ways towards justifying some of Arthur's more foolish actions.
But herein lies the rub: neither Arthur nor the actor behind him are particularly likable (though he is undeniably suited for the role). The movie's namesake is endlessly irresponsible, seeming to only care about himself, his money, and his ability to remain intoxicated. It should not be denied that he has a certain degree of charm, and his chemistry with Gerwig is spot-on, but the rampant abuse of his privileges, whether in the form of maniacal spending habits in the face of a depression, or his blatant abuse of Mirren's energy and patience, make him difficult to cheer on. But this Arthur wasn't ever really aiming to set the word on fire anyways. Flawed as it may be, Arthur still makes for a pleasant enough trip to the movies, enjoyable while you're there, and forgotten the moment you leave, which seems to have been the goal of its creators all along. It might not be the loftiest aspiration, but as far as passing a couple hours is concerned, one could do much worse.