Mark Reviews Movies

Arthur Newman


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dante Ariola

Cast: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche, Lucas Hedges

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, language and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 4/26/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 25, 2013

If anything, Arthur Newman is a reminder that some lonely people are lonely for a good reason. Take our protagonist Wallace Avery (Colin Firth), later taking the eponymous name. He's a sad sack and a consummate bore. The only aspect of mild interest about him is that he was once a professional golfer, and even that chapter in his life is marked by the fact that he, as an on-the-nose commentator puts it on a video of one of the tournaments he participated in, had a problem with choking under pressure.

Surely there's a path Wallace took to get from his failure at golf to the point where he is at the start of the movie, but we only know what the movie shows us. We meet this newly unemployed man as an ex-husband, an absentee father, and a lover whose most romantic gesture is to make sure the vendor has put the right amount of mustard on his girlfriend's hot dog (Yes, it's the little things, but this is the only little thing we see of him in that regard). In his conversation with the woman, he drops hints that he's going camping over the weekend.

Of course, Wallace doesn't want Mina (Anne Heche) to come along with him. He has other plans, but the nature of her reaction—a nearly silent dismissal of the idea and him—is telling. It's like they're complete strangers, and that's ultimately the feeling we have of Wallace throughout this story of a man who cannot be defined by anything he does or anyone he might be on his own. We intrinsically want to sympathize with this man, but given the little Becky Johnston's screenplay reveals of him (not to mention what it reveals about him), it's difficult to do so.

His plan is to abandon this life that he hasn't put any effort into maintaining, let alone improving. Wallace is a bystander in his own life, sitting in his car and watching his former family—now with additions from his ex-wife's (Kristin Lehman) new romantic attachment—with binoculars, eating some fast food and sharing a vicarious dinner with them. He picks up some forged documents with his photo and the information of a dead man named Arthur Newman. He buys a convertible. He makes his way to the beach, where he has a few beers, removes his shoes, leaves his wallet in one of them, and walks toward the shore.

He has no intention of killing himself—too decisive a move for him—but wants to leave behind a trail that would lead people to believe that he's dead. In something of a sign of how little faith Johnston has in Wallace (regardless of what name he calls himself), we're introduced to another character almost immediately after he gains his independence and freedom. Again, given the opportunity to let this character do as he pleases and to let us see more about him, the screenplay quite tellingly teams him up with Mike (Emily Blunt), a troubled woman with a family history of mental illness. When "Arthur" first introduces himself to her, she's lying in a stupor induced by an overdose of cough syrup by the pool of the motel where he's staying; even in that state, she's 10 times more interesting than him.

The plan is for "Arthur" to drive to Terre Haute, Indiana, where he has an unofficial job offer to work at a golf course after helping out the owner with his swing a year ago. Mike decides to come with him after learning he's living under an assumed identity. She thinks they have a lot in common.

The movie picks up considerably when Mike joins our dull hero, and their little adventures together at least show us another side to him. Think about what that says about him, though. "Arthur" needs another character putting him in increasingly odd situations to have a personality. There's only one scene in the movie that suggests he, completely on his own, is worth following. In it, he rushes to help a dying man while everyone else stands aside uncertain of what to do.

As the story progresses, "Arthur" and Mike's relationship becomes stranger and stranger, as she apparently thrives on pretending to be someone she's not. The two follow complete strangers, break into their homes, and play at being them—dressing in their clothes, having sex in their beds, and otherwise attempting to occupy their spaces and personalities. Whatever semblance of relatable humanity these two might have is tossed out the window when those episodes begin.

Meanwhile, back at home, Wallace's son (Lucas Hedges) and girlfriend start remembering him. Their impression of the man is nearly the same as ours, though they include selfishness as his defining flaw. By including these scenes, the point of Arthur Newman, in the end, would seem to be note the change that Wallace has undertaken compared to what others think of them. If we take those other characters at their word, we'd never know there's a change when the dishonest final sequence of events arrives, wanting us to ignore everything he's done.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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