Deb rented the movie Arthur with Russell Brand (2011) on Friday, which led us to discuss the movie Arthur with Dudley Moore (1981), so she rented that on Saturday. Watching the remake and then the sequel is an interesting experience. How do the movies compare?
First of all, the movies are very close. Many of the same gags are repeated, in particular a drunken Arthur mistakenly trying to exit a room via a closet.
Second, the remake actually straightens up some of weaknesses of the original plot. In particular, 1981 fiance Sara Johnson (Jill Eikenberry) is a cardboard character. She loves the drunken Arthur, but why? That’s never credible. 2011 fiance Jennifer Garner is ambitious and money-hungry and looks at Arthur as both a challenge and a way to further her career. Garner gets a lot more space in this movie than Eikenberry does, and deserves it.
The female competition is also set up more credibly. 1981 Liza Minelli is supposed to be cute and attractive while shoplifting a tie. That’s a lot weaker than 2011 Greta Gerwig looking cute and attractive while doing tours of Grand Central Station without a license.
In terms of the performances:
1981 John Gielgud won an Oscar and stole the show; 2011 Helen Mirren is very good, but not Gielgud.
Minelli can probably sing a lot better than Gerwig, but there’s no singing in the movie and Minelli isn’t really that strong as an actress.
As mentioned above, 2011 Jennifer Garner is a strong actress in a stronger role; Eikenberry gets cardboard-cutout lines.
Nick Nolte (fiance’s father) also gets fleshed out more than Stephen Ellion did. It’s a cliché Nick Nolte, but that seems exactly right for this comedy.
The title role is difficult. Arthur is a drunk who’s wasting his life, and it’s hard to have sympathy for him. Being a lovable drunk is even harder to justify in 2011 than in 1981. Dudley Moore is more understated than Russell Brand, and that means it is at least easier to watch him for long periods of time on the screen. Russell Brand’s a great comedian, but I prefer him in smaller doses; it’s a lot of work watching Russell Brand, and he’s not offscreen long enough in this movie to give you time to rest.
On the whole, I’d have to say that the remake is a bit better.