Here’s the essence of Arthur.
Arthur Bach, the scion of a wealthy family, is an irresponsible, tipsy playboy. Arthur is immature, he’s generous, he laughs a lot, especially at his own it’s-funny-when-you’ve-had-a-few observations. Arthur also takes a perverse pleasure in flaunting convention, inviting hookers to dinner at upscale eateries.
Arthur’s family wants him to grow up, the symbolic gesture of this ascension to adulthood – an arranged marriage to a female scion on another wealthy family. Though Arthur agrees to the marriage, he subsequently catches sight of an offbeat working class girl while she’s shoplifting a tie from a department store, and is immediately smitten.
The movie hinges on whether Arthur will surrender to his love for this proletarian nobody, or do the “adult thing” and marry within his class. The jeopardy is, if he refuses to do the latter, Arthur’s moneyed grandmother will cut him off, and Arthur will wind up with nothing.
Arthur is a throwback to the classic screwball comedies of the 1930’s. My Man Godfrey (1936) did the same story backwards – a freethinking rich girl falls for her butler. (Though he later turns out to be rich as well. I hated that part.)
I can enjoy multiple viewings of Arthur because, although the situation is not inspired – in fact, in keeping with the genre, it’s transparently contrived – the astonishing inventiveness of the joke writing by the movie’s writer-director, Steve Gordon is. It is there that I find the aforementioned (two posts ago) “comic inspiration”, the element that, for me, keeps certain comedies from ever getting old.
One memorable example out of many:
After Arthur invites Linda (the shoplifter girl) out, Arthur’s butler/slash/caretaker/slash surrogate father, gives the girl some fashion advice concerning their upcoming excursion:
“Steal something casual.”
Aside from the original joke writing, Arthur also provides three first-class performances – Dudley Moore, as Arthur, Sir John Gielgud, who won the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar as Hobson, the butler/slash/other stuff, and Liza Minnelli, who – though I never liked her in anything else except a movie called Charlie Bubbles, is a revelation of casting perfection.
Two things make Arthur one of my all-time favorites: The original joke writing and three sparkling performances. No, wait, there are three things: The original joke writing, three sparkling performances, and the film’s ineffable, almost fairytale-like sweetness.
(Note: Writers use the word “ineffable”, when they lack the chops to make what they’re trying to describe effable. I apologize for the limitation. The movie deserves better.)
I have recently learned that they’re doing a remake of Arthur, starring Russell Brand, from Forgetting Sarah Marshall (where I found to be him refreshingly charming) and Get Him To The Greek (where I didn’t.) I am not happy when they remake movies I like. And this one seems particularly problematic.
These are the primary pillars on which the original Arthur is based. To which I then query, “If you’re uncomfortable with the primary pillar on which the original movie is founded, what is your reason for doing a remake?”
The most difficult problem in the remaking, however, was observed by my daughter Anna, who also loves Arthur. (The Court Jester is one of her favorites as well. I have had my influences.)I will herein paraphrase Anna’s concern, (which is also mine, but she beat me to the words.) When the original Arthur was made, “growing up” was obligatory. Today, it’s an option.
In earlier times, maturity was the price one paid for being taken seriously and accepted into the adult society. Now, there are kid billionaires inventing Facebook and Jackass-3D is killing at the box office.
If you score big in the bucks department, adult society will now take you exactly as you are. In fact, there may not be any adult society anymore. Have you noticed everybody dressing like teenagers?
The problem then is, how you make (or remake) a movie about growing up in an era where that concept is no longer meaningful?
Best of luck, fellahs.
There is one thing in Arthur that’s disappointing to me, but I will talk about that tomorrow. Today, check out some of the good stuff.