Russell Brand and Helen Mirren are so good, it makes Arthur entertaining. It’s still the same old contrived Hollywood formula, and it’s not a particularly good version of it, but Brand and Mirren have fun throughout.
In case this seems like an original idea to you, Arthur (Brand) is a billionaire heir to the Bach Worldwide corporation. He gets into trouble dressing as Batman and crashing a Batmobile, which embarrasses his mother Vivienne. Vivienne plans to marry him off to Susan (Jennifer Garner), otherwise she’ll cut him off. It’s at that exact point in his life and the story that he meets whimsical Grand Central Terminal tour guide Naomi (Greta Gerwig). So he’s torn between keeping his money and going with his heart, and his nanny Hobson (Mirren) tries to steer him right.
This is mainly a collection of contrived set pieces, but that’s where Brand does his best work. He goes all out in the proposal dinner scene and doesn’t miss an opportunity to jump around, be foolish or slip in a clever joke. Brand is having fun sneering at the formula he’s stuck in, down to Arthur’s stint working in a candy store.
Hobson is funny despite being pretty mean. Calling women streetwalkers and tarts is just bullying, but Mirren is so classy she pulls off the humor in it. Her references to spoilers are more appreciated than putdowns. Susan is a totally one dimensional villain obsessed with money and status. Her drunk dominatrix schtick is beneath Garner.
Arthur is a good character. As much of his recklessness is selfless, giving away money or helping people achieve their dreams, as the other half is hedonistic. He does want noble things like conversation in a relationship, so the physical promises Susan makes actually offend his sensibilities.
The only modern touches are a brief mention of the recession and an upskirt (upkilt) shot of Arthur’s blurred out junk. I guess you could also count how this remake does what all Hollywood comedies do now and goes all serious. But the movie doesn’t seem to know when Arthur’s learned his lesson so it keeps getting serious and goes way past heartwarming. Then it takes so long to work out the plot with a wedding, running around Queens naked and another whole montage.
You won’t mind watching Arthur because of Brand and Mirren, and Gerwig is sweet, but there’s nothing memorable or hilarious. It’s just pleasant enough, which can be fine. Sometimes we just want to see pretty people have fun. That’s all this Arthur is.