Director: Steve Gordon / Writer: Steve Gordon / Stars: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, and John Gielgud
Synopsis from IMDB: Arthur is a happy drunk with no pretensions at any ambition. He is also the heir to a vast fortune which he is told will only be his if he marries Susan. He does not love Susan, but she will make something of him the family expects. Arthur proposes but then meets a girl with no money who he could easily fall in love with.
When I heard about the 2011 remake of the 1981 Arthur, it was a reminder to be me of being a kid from a poor family in a small Midwestern town in awe of the lifestyle where a guy could be so rich that they were free to stumble in and out of high-dollar public venues acting like a fool, making jokes that only he found funny, and more or less insult everyone he came across. I’m not sure I ever actually saw the movie all the way through as a kid, or even picked up on the fact that it was a romantic comedy. I always saw it as more of a jokester-type Caddyshack sort of movie than a quirky romantic Mannequin-type movie. And somehow, when I recently re-watched the movie—or watched it all the way through for the first time, rather—I was surprised to find that I thought it was far funnier when I was a kid than I do now.
For me, the opening scene sets a particular tone that the movie never comes back from. Drunken Arthur has his driver pull the ungodly expensive luxury car up to a corner somewhere in New York City, and he proceeds to engage in nonsensical dialogue with a couple of hookers. He talks one of the hookers into getting into the car, and then we get a taste of just how magnanimous our protagonist Arthur is when he tells his driver to give the one prostitute who didn’t get into his car twice the amount of money she asked for. The driver gets out and gives her the money, and the movie seems to portray them as having a “two black people sharing a moment about how crazy that rich white boy is” sort of connection. Somehow this bizarre display of how vast the disparities of race and class play out in the lives of various people is made funny simply by virtue of the fact that Arthur is a happy drunk, not a mean one. It’s amusing that the hooker sells sex for money in this sequence, because she’s got a good sense of humor.
True to its 1980s sensibilities, this movie never once seems to stop and question any of these types of issues as Arthur plods down his entitled path. The basic premise is that if he doesn’t marry the aristocratic woman his family wants him to marry, he won’t be entitled to receive the vast liquor and prostitute fund inheritance he’s expecting. Unfortunately, he’s not “in love” with Susan, and so he feels that he’s in a bit of a quandary. He serendipitously happens upon Linda (Liza Minelli) as she’s stealing a tie from a high-end fashion store, and he once again shows how magnanimous a rich white man he is by landing a big kiss on her in public, thereby saving her from the store security. (Lesson: it’s okay to steal if someone rich wants to touch you inappropriately.) He goes on to court Linda in a way only a man with unlimited coffers can do, only to find it necessary to work out the issue of not marrying the right woman and still having the money to live with no sense of responsibility or accountability. As always, I’ll try to not spoil the ending for you. (He gets the girl and the money.)
I know little more about the 2011 remake than what one can learn by watching the trailer, and while I’d love to write a follow-up on how I think it compares, I suspect I’ll be waiting for the DVD. I do usually like Russell Brand, but maybe that’s because I’ve only watched him in the hilarious Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The fact that he’s married to Katy Perry, in my opinion, is not an endorsement. Has anyone watched the Russell Brand version of Arthur? How does it measure up?