Blessed are those who have not seen the original 1981 version of this, for they are spared the ordeal of comparison. A poor memory for that movie may also help.
One of my favourite screen moments is John Gielgud shocking the viewer by muttering obscenities at Dudley Moore, through a closed bathroom door.
Gielgud won an Oscar for that performance, as did Christopher Cross for the theme song “Best That You Can Do”, which is memorable enough that I can still sing all the words, when it is “modernised” for this “reimagining”.
The first half hour of this remake is beautifully entertaining. Russell Brand seems to channel Dudley Moore and has clearly done significant research in playing a louche and rich drunk. There is real charm in Helen Mirren playing against type in the John Gielgud nanny role.
Geraldine James is an excellent frosty monster mother and Jennifer Garner plays an equally menacing fiancee forced on our Arthur. Luiz Guzman is superb as chauffeur Bitterman. The names are very much the same as in the original, other than Liza Minnelli’s role as Linda, which is now given the more fashionable name of “Naomi”.
Greta Gerwig plays that part as a tour guide rather than Liza’s shoplifter – a sign of the times – and she plays exactly the same smart, sassy and slightly kooky character she did in “Greenberg”, with equal appeal.
There is much homage to the original. Helen Mirren’s Hobson comments on the same cleansing of private parts that Gielgud did – but it’s more wry than vulgar.
Parts of this make you feel that Mirren may have a great future playing a comic heroine. Yet there are other scenes that fall stunningly flat, even though she has some of the best lines and most moving scenes here.
The middle bit slumps, before picking up for a big and very funny grand finale.
At Stratford Picturehouse, the audience all laughed a lot and enjoyed it greatly. It’s not pitched at the same high level of satirical intelligence as the original, but it doesn’t sink as low as many modern comedies.
How much joy you will find here will depend on your opinion of Russell Brand. He is in virtually every scene. I quite like him, but if you find him irritating, stay away from this.
The soundtrack is okay and the New York scenes and apartments are very beautiful.
I come back to the same question again and again. With so many remakes about and so few of them being as good as the originals, even for young viewers, shouldn’t Hollywood be trawling for new ideas?
It’s fitting to end with the trailer for the original “Arthur”. Moore and Gielgud are dead. Pity, although nothing in this film will make them turn in their graves. Liza Minnelli is very much alive and not dead, although I said she was in the first posting. Mea culpa. Corrected.