Just like the original, this remake of the booze-soaked rom-com Arthur manages to be ineptly retro. When the Dudley Moore version opened three decades ago, it was meant to gloriously revive the American screwball comedy, a 1930s genre that always depended on the comical side of class rifts. The reworking didn’t really work — mostly because Moore felt too toxic, like a Morning in America hangover — but people bought tickets. Here, Russell Brand makes the displacement complete, mostly because he seems like a rock star. Besides that, though, conspicuous imbibing hasn’t really maintained its allure. AA, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and Lindsay Lohan have justly taken the joy out of sports drinking.
Needless to say, the opening and closing of this film are nearly unendurably off, awkward, as they like to say in movies nowadays. Of course Arthur isn’t all fake comic artifice, but it doesn’t feel like real comic terrain anymore either.
What’s surprising, however, is that the middle of the film is pretty good. Brand has a better-slurred sense of comic timing than Moore, as well as hipper jokes and brighter dialogue. Still, the real stars are Helen Mirren (in the John Gielgud role) and the great Greta Gerwig as Naomi. Both women — one a great veteran and the latter a great hope — manage to make their roles surprising at every turn. That’s what screwball really requires for its kick. And when Mirren and Gerwig grace the screen, Arthur breaks its dumb façade and seems momentarily like real fun.