"No work. All play." This is the succinct tagline of Jason Winer's (soon to direct a TV movie called Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, if that gives you an inkling of Winer's enthusiasm for making money regardless of the cost of his dignity) remake of the 1981 comedy Arthur. While the original version of Arthur, starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli wasn't exactly masterpiece material, it still deserves a bit more of an honorary tribute than what writer Peter Baynham has given it. Baynham is know for his work on Borat, Bruno, and the British TV series I'm Alan Partridge. I guess the producers (one of which I'm convinced was the head of advertising for Maker's Mark, considering how blatantly the beverage was paraded throughout the movie) had this thought process, "There's British people in the movie. Maybe we should get a British writer too. Someone who speaks their language."
With this in mind, Baynham revamped basically everything that appeared in the original story, including the fact that Hobson was Arthur's butler, not the matronly nanny played by Helen Mirren (for an Academy Award winning actress, she sure does appear in quite a few shit films. Remember Teaching Mrs. Tingle? No? It's probably better that way). The only thing they really kept from the original was that goddamn Christopher Cross song, called--unpretentiously--"Arthur's Theme" that plays during the credits.
It's not necessarily that Arthur is as wretched as most reviews have made it out to be, it is simply like the protagonist himself: Utterly frivolous and tolerable only under a very specific set of circumstances (e.g. you're drunk, there's nothing else to watch on TV, you're on a plane and that's the movie being shown). However, there is something more to the reason why so many seem to have contempt for this distinctly Russell Brand vehicle--that reason being there are very few people who can abide by the hedonistic Arthurian philosophy. Though the movie casually addresses that Arthur does not come across as likable with his extravagant spending during a time of recession (and, by the way, how much longer do we have to use that fucking term? I think once "the powers that be" stop bandying the word so freely, the public will be more inclined to believe it is over), it doesn't change the fact that audiences can't empathize with a clueless, rich simpleton who just wants to indulge himself. That really isn't where American society is at this point. We want to see down on their luck strugglers or at least wealthy people who get sued and have no personal relationships of any value (yes, a The Social Network reference).
Arthur's main plight in life is his forced nuptials to Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner, in a throwaway role that could have been played by anyone) and his contrasting desire to both have money and be allowed to court the woman he is falling in love with, Naomi (Greta Gerwig), an unlicensed tour guide with ambitions of becoming a children's book author. Unfortunately, Arthur's callous mother, Vivienne (Geraldine James), knows that giving him the threat of being cut off from 950 million dollars will be enough to secure her business merger with the Johnson family.
Then there's the added tension of Hobson, the woman who he considers his real mother, being on the verge of death (they never really say what she has though; I do hate such inattention to detail). This tactic is, presumably, supposed to make us more understanding and empathetic toward Arthur's infantile behavior. Once Hobson kicks the bucket, Arthur is finally allowed to make a forced character arc into maturity (this includes going to AA, but still not getting a job as his mother chose to let him keep the money). So, once again, while Arthur may be dubbed "the world's only lovable billionaire," he is not lovable enough to pay a mound of money to see him lay in a tub or on a magnetic bed.