Review: “Arthur Newman”

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I read a long-form journalism piece, recently, about a college student who died. The outer shell of the article was padded with intrigue: 19-year-old, died her freshman year at her first college party. But it was gutless. There was nothing to it, except a lot of exposition and an annotation at the end explaining that the story had no depth because nobody important cooperated. It was a just a lot of words on a page and a writer flexing her muscles.

The story was probably better told in spurts, in news stories when it happened; in fact, the writer seems to have pieced all of these together, often referring to news coverage. I missed that series of stories, but I’m guessing this writer did a superb job of wrangling it all together. Nobody ever said writing a 2,000+ word story was easy. I’ve done it and can vouch for that. This writer’s story will always be out there (I’m sure you could find it, if you tried), but I’d point you to the episodic news stories, instead.

I felt the same way about “Arthur Newman,” the story of two lost souls, Mike and Arthur, who find each other and go on adventures together as other people with different names. Director Dante Ariola and writer Becky Johnston were flexing their muscles with this one and forgot to make it mean anything.

Mike, played by Emily Blunt, and Arthur, played by Colin Firth, are two people on the run from the real world. Arthur, divorced, is sick of his real life. His son hates him. He’s a fail professional golfer. Mike, runaway, is scared of her destiny, which she thinks is to become a paranoid schizophrenic like her mother and sister. They meet each other and embark on sort of a soul searching trip without a stopping point. This is a bad way to go; after all, it’s an important rule in literature to have an idea of how your story will end when you begin.

“Arthur Newman” would’ve been better served as a television series, featuring two intriguing characters (more so Mike) in an interesting story line. Instead, “Arthur Newman” is moving really fast and spinning in circles. The two main characters are pretty dull, even after the writers spice things up by putting Emily Blunt in lingerie and a mink coat. There isn’t an argument about how sexy Emily Blunt is (gulp), but it really didn’t matter.

It was fun, at times, watching the film’s many montages, when Mike and Arthur break into people’s houses, wear their clothes, adopt their identities for a night, have sex, etc. Sometimes Mike struck me as way-weird. Arthur was a routine snoozer, always the hesitant one on the pair’s excursions. Obviously, Emily Blunt carried this movie — not far, but still carried it. Had this been a movie solely about Arthur Newman, we all would’ve died of depression. Blunt was the tiny light in this film, from the very moment she stepped out of grandma and grandpa’s closet in an old wedding dress.

The film is in between a frantic adventure and a love story. I thought it should’ve been a love story, but the ending threw it all away. This was meant to be a story about two people who find the person they need to balance out their lives, but it wasn’t. It was important they each faced their fears, but how they got there didn’t resonate.

“Arthur Newman” didn’t have good bones to it. It had excellent potential — two good actors approached with a good story idea, but left us, merely, with a forced life lesson. Maybe the writers felt like the characters had to return to their less exciting lives, to face their fears; however, not every story needs a moral. At its core, the movie gave us but one certainty: Mike and Arthur are not moral characters. They’d be better served riding off, into the sunset, with nowhere to go.

“Arthur Newman”: ★★

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