Arthur Newman

R, 101 m., 2012

Emily Blunt (Mike), Colin Firth (Arthur Newman), Anne Heche (Mina Crawley), Kristin Lehman (Mary Alice Wells), Sterling Beaumon (Grant Wells), M. Emmet Walsh (Zazek), Nicole LaLiberte (Hipster Sarah), Autumn Dial (Charyl), David Andrews (Chuck Willoughby), Sharon Conley (Unemployment Official (as Sharon Morris)), Peter Jurasik (Bus Driver), Lucas Hedges (Kevin Avery), Steve Coulter (Owen Hadley), Michael Beasley (Detective #2), L. Warren Young (Deputy). Directed by Dante Ariola and produced by Mac Cappuccino, Becky Johnston, Brian Oliver, and Alisa Tager. Screenplay by Johnston.

This is one boring movie! If watching paint dry ever becomes an Olympic sport, I should win a frickin’ Gold Medal for enduring it. To call it dull as dishwater would be an insult to both dishes and their cleansing liquid. You know a film isn’t going well when the most exciting part is your getting a nosebleed halfway through and having to go to the bathroom for 5 minutes to clean it up. When I got back, nothing much had changed. So what could be so boring, you ask? I give you Arthur Newman – a drably filmed, mind-numbingly plotted, blandly acted American road movie starring those two shining stars of British cinema, Colin Firth and Emily Blunt. Take it. Please.

Firth plays the title role, a former amateur golfer whose life is in a rut. The name is a pseudonym and false identity he’s crafted in order to take advantage of a job opportunity offered by a golf pro/course owner in Terre Haute, Indiana who he impressed with his helpful hints about upping the man’s game. Divorced, with a son (Lucas Hedges) who resents him, and having a less-than-committed relationship with Mina (an inexplicably-cast Anne Heche), Arthur’s actual name is Wallace Avery, who in reality once had an opportunity at the PGA tour once and choked rather publicly. So it’s almost fathomable that basically decent if pathetic schlub Avery would “become” a Newman (get it?) in order to fake his own death (!) and start a new life…

Enter “Mike” (Blunt), another lost soul trying to escape her life by stealing her mental ward-admitted twin sister’s identity and hitting the road only to hook up with Newman after he admits her to a hospital with an overdose on cold medication (a powerful narcotic, we’re told). The two gradually hit it off and learn a lot about each other and, eventually, begin breaking into strangers’ houses while they’re out, trying on their clothes, having sex in their beds, smoking their bongs, eating their foods, etc. The people come home and they move on to another house. This leads to scenes of old people walking in on Blunt giving Firth a blowjob, for instance. Ha.

In order to pad the film’s running time, or ostensibly to deepen the thread-bare emotions on display, we get a creepy and would-be touching subplot in which Newman’s girlfriend is half-naked when his son comes over unaware of what’s happened. Soon, they bond at his apartment and begin eating dinner, reminiscing about their respective relationships with the man (for you’ll recall they think he’s DEAD!), and even fall asleep on one another’s shoulders. So sweet.

Meanwhile, Newman and “Mike” have increasingly exciting sex in strangers’ houses and motels. If you ever wanted to see Firth and Blunt engaging in doggy-style fornication or oral sex, this is the film for you. However, they never manage to generate any organic chemistry, if you will, between them. It seems a bit forced. A road movie is supposed to bring disparate character types together, right?

The film, if you can call it that, is the feature debut of Dante Ariola and written by Becky Johnston (Seven Years in Tibet, The Prince of Tides). The last time I recall seeing such a non-event on the big screen, such a dramatic dead zone, was Tom Hanks’ Larry Crowne (2011), similarly about a basically good person who is unmanned by his life and tries to overcome it by going back to college for some new life skills. That was a generic sitcom that took place in a plastic world of nice people (even the mean looking bike-riders!) doing good and allowing nothing even remotely bad to happen to them in the process. It may be the cinematic equivalent of “when God gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

By contrast, Arthur Newman is at least about severely flawed people trying to do good, albeit, going about it in rather selfish ways. So cynical about human nature am I that I thought for sure someone was making up their claims about what they were doing throughout the film. Turns out, I didn’t know them as well as I thought. Other than that one surprise, it’s predictable, it’s drably-filmed and it’s dour in tone. In short, it’s ever so slightly more realistic than the Hanks film. Which makes it all the more frustrating. Firth and Blunt are given so few notes to play that it never really feels like it’s going anywhere. This is a literal non-starter.

Further, Ariola and Johnston get all the way to the finish line, and just like Wallace Avery on the PGA tour, they choke. To call where this film ends up a climax would be an insult to actual endings. It’s as if they knew how it needed to end, and perhaps were either unsure how to climb out of their self-dug hole (having a man who faked his death confront his estranged son would be a start), or perhaps they were too bored to care…

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