'Arthur Newman' Movie Review: Dante Ariola's Movie Can't Quite Hit It's Stride
The only reason to see Arthur Newman, the new film from director Dante Ariola, is for the actors: dream-team Colin Firth and Emily Blunt. If you’re looking for a delightful, yet poignant film, save your money, because contrary to what the trailers would have you believe, this film is neither. And, as wonderful as Firth and Blunt are, even they cannot save the awkward and nonsensical screenplay from Becky Johnston (Seven Years in Tibet).
Arthur Newman follows Wallace Avery (Firth), a depressed FedEx manager, as he reinvents himself to become ‘Arthur Newman’, a successful golf pro. It’s a great premise full of possibility. However, Wallace Avery is not just a man — he is a father, a significant other, and an employee. From the beginning, the audience knows that Avery has a girlfriend who loves him and a teenage son, making it extremely difficult to develop any sort of empathy for him. Avery fakes his death and disappears without any real thought to his responsibilities to those around him. As an indication of character, faking your death is a pretty major one.
Though his son, Kevin (Lucas Hedges), ignores him, his need for his father is consistent throughout the film. The movie goes back and forth between Wallace/Arthur and his son, who tries to fit himself into his father’s world after hearing of his disappearance. Hedges, a great young actor, is so subtle and effective as the tortured son, and the character of Kevin is so well rounded, that I found myself seeing the movie from his point of view instead of Wallace/Arthur’s. The fact that Avery abandons him makes it almost impossible to enjoy his adventure as Arthur Newman.
One could say that this moral ambiguity makes Wallace/Arthur a more interesting and challenging role for the Academy Award-winning Firth. And this would be true if the rest of the script reflected that struggle. Instead, this moral conflict feels out of place and awkward, especially considering the fact that this film could be classified as a ‘road-trip’ movie.
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For the majority of the movie, Wallace/Arthur is driving towards his new life, stopping at inconspicuous motels, trying out his new personality. Along the way, he picks up Mike (Emily Blunt), a mysterious and rebellious young woman. Together they find an escape by pretending to be anyone but themselves.
The two characters are so desperate to run away from their lives that they are never completely honest with each other. This dynamic creates a really nice dramatic tension for the actors to play on, and watching Blunt and Firth onscreen together is never boring. But not one thing they do, including the risks they take, makes any sense and lacks even a hint of rational motive. Arguably, the story really starts when Arthur picks Mike up at a motel and takes her with him on the road. But his motivation to do so is completely unexplained. Why would a man running from the law (he did fake his own disappearance and commit identity theft/fraud) pick up such a wild card? Mike is unpredictable, sneaky, and untrustworthy, so why does Arthur trust her not to expose him?
There is a very fun sequence during which, at every new stop, Arthur and Mike sneak into a random couple’s home and lives their lives for an afternoon. They put on the strangers’ clothes and have sex in these strangers’ beds. This habit of breaking into people’s homes, though whimsical, is pretty idiotic considering their desire to stay under the radar. For two people who want to run away, they leave one hell of a trail.
The problems with the script make the film difficult to sit through. I was torn between wanting to be entertained by the leading actors and being unable to because of the ludicrous plot points. It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide what kind of movie they wanted to make. They wanted the character of Arthur Newman to be tortured and not entirely likable, but they also wanted him to be free and charming. They wanted Mike to be crazy, but also sensitive and emotional. They ended up giving the characters serious flaws without considering the fact that they discredit the rest of the light-hearted plot.
Arthur Newman is not horrible, but it's not good. It simply is. Unless you are a big fan of Colin Firth and/or Emily Blunt, or you want to see Anne Heche give a particularly stale performance as the girlfriend Wallace leaves behind, feel free to skip this one.
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