Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Arthur: A Review and Comment on Class

After making my friend watch El Orfanato with me the other night, I thought it fitting to suggest that we watch something lighter the next night. Incidentally, I wanted to review El Orfanato but I'm still a bit too spooked to even write a paragraph on it. All I can say at this point is that it is brilliantly written and equally brilliantly played and realized. Man, was it chilling! Whew!

So, I wanted to see the new cinematic version of Arthur because I've always found the premise of the film to be of interest. Arthur comes from a privileged background. He has all the material things he can ever want but he does not have any familial warmth and/or social attachments of actual value.

I expected more from Peter Baynham and Steve Gordon, the writers of Arthur. Alas, I got much less than I thought I would. For the most part, watching Arthur was, simply put, uncomfortable. We had to stay till the end, however, because well, dinner was not till two hours later and the movie theater was as a good a place to wait as any, I suppose. Plus, we needed something to discuss over dinner and a bad movie can come in handy sometimes. Food somehow tastes better when commenting on artistic inferiority.

Arthur's only redeeming quality was Russell Brand which, since he is Arthur, should have helped ease the pain a bit. Alas, it didn't. No performer is good enough to sustain an inferior work. There's no cure for a less-than-mediocre script, whether Russell Brand does a hunky-dory job or not.

And won't a director out there please cast Greta Gerwig right? Few actors have her kind of range and it's, unfortunately, not being shown well and/or sufficiently. As Naomi, Gerwig was less likable than even Liza Minelli in the original Arthur. That's how badly cast I thought she was. I mean, doesn't Woody Allen have any upcoming projects he could cast her in? But I digress.

What's fundamentally wrong with this film is its cheap portrayal of the notion of class privilege. Arthur stands to inherit a billion dollar fortune. He is told he'll face a life without it if he doesn't comply with the family's wishes and marry someone else with access to wealth (who, incidentally, represents the nouveau riche).

Arthur is not keen on leading a life without access to excess. After all, it's all he knows even though he seems to abhor much of it. The film could have dug in deeper and explored the concept of upward mobility and what potentially informs it. It could have shown better and more clearly the social ramifications of privilege and how it informs self-marginalization and a lack of need to want to grow and stretch. Unfortunately, all the film does is show what cash flow looks like by way of showcasing all sorts of toys and uber-expensive distractions.

What this film does best is reduce the so-called rich and privileged to a kind of cliché that would make even Dickens blush. People with access to wealth are just overall unlikable and bitter much like Great Expectations' Miss Havisham. Common folk, or 'normal people', as the film attempts to portray by way of Naomi and her posse, are endowed with clear sight. They see things for how/what they are and they do life with reserved pride and inspired by moderation, and, most importantly dignity. It is precisely this kind of reduction that I find revolting. Not having things is equated with virtue. Having things stands for vice in all of its forms and shapes. Come again?!

An adult discussion of class is needed in society. Class differences do exist. Quite clearly they do. So, why aren't they discussed more and in greater detail in an effort to understand what informs the very fabric of our society? Arthur could have done some of it. Instead, it falls flat. It resorts to a cheap parody of class and all we're given are carbohydrates that make us tired and dizzy afterwards. Arthur's shenanigans, even though Brand is almost adorable in them, are not enough to even mildly entertain one. After all of that sugar intake, I was in the market for some protein. And, thankfully, dinner provided a much better finish for the day.

The film could have shown the complexities of what it means to have access to wealth when living in the most culturally relevant metropolis of the world, i.e., New York City. People of Arthur's ilk are depicted as impossible to understand because apparently by virtue of their monetary privilege and wealth they are totally denuded of every ounce of humanity i.e., relatablity.

And, of course, Naomi, who represents the opposite of money and social status is somehow the best appreciator of things quintessentially New York. She truly gets Central Park. She gets art. She feels things that privileged, rich morons never could because, naturally, privilege gives one nothing more than the equivalent to a massive lobotomy.

The original trailer from the 1981 Dudley Moore version is here:


Unknown said...

I wondered how you'd review it when I went and saw it last week. I knew you'd find it 'reprehensible' and 'simplistic.'
I think Russell Brand has good range, too. I wish his agents placed him in better projects though.
I didn't see any Helen Mirren references either. I guess she needs better agents too, right? :)

Unknown said...

I liked Greta in Greenberg, btw. You never reviewed that film.... I thought you were into Noah Birnbaum.
Arthur's soundtrack was not too shabby either.

Sra said...

I like Russell Brand's stand-up, but have never liked him in a film, so I'd probably not have considered seeing this anyway.

The Orphanage is good, isn't it? That's not usually my genre of film, but I have a few notable exceptions like that one. Another excellent Spanish thriller is Time Crimes (Cronocrimenes, I think).

Il Principe said...

You watched El Orfanato and Arthur and chose to examine the latter? Mind boggled. Next, please watch "A Tale of Two Sisters". Equally stirring, chilling and resonating. It is chock full of symbolism that I feel you'll get a kick out of.