By Laurie Coker
Broken people make for extremely interesting stories to watch. Like a train wreck, their lives, dysfunctional and desperate, are difficult to turn away from. Colin Firth and Emily Blunt star in Arthur Newman, and their powerful performances make up for a dreary tale, one with little going for it and an ending that leaves one asking “so what?”
Firth plays Wallace Avery who, tired of his life, walks away from and assumes a new identity, Arthur Newman. Once working in a dead end job, he transforms himself into a “golf pro” and he embarks on a road trip to hopes of a new job miles away in Terre Haute, Indiana – away from a girlfriend Mina (Anne Heche) , an ex-wife and his teenage son who seems to despise him. He encounters Mike (Blunt), a mess of a woman on a journey of her own. Together they break into houses, role play and while there, all the while traveling cross country and staying in hotels (where Mike won’t even stay in the room Wallace pays separately for). It’s all wild & weird and except for the lead actors, not all that interesting.
Once I got past his Midwestern accent I fell into trying to understand Firth’s character and his motivation. The connection between the Arthur and Mike is perplexing – he is subdued and nearly nerdy and she is audacious and criminal. I never felt any chemistry between them either. There are some intriguing moments when the pair break into houses and assume personas- even making love as “other people”, but these moments are played out mainly in montage-like flashes.
Director and writer Dante Ariola and Becky Johnston don’t seem to really know what to do with their characters, especially those connected to them (not on the journey. None of them are truly an integral part of the story. Mina (and as a result Heche) is virtually worthless in terms of plot, and her character is almost as strange and screwed up as the leads, if not more so. Additionally, we follow Wallace’s son and realize he hates his father, but we are not really sure why. The boy and Mina have a few odd (non-sexual) encounters, but they and their characters go nowhere.
If ever there was an exercise in futility, it is this film – it and its characters make so sense. This is not to say that Firth and Blunt aren’t worth watching, because they do offers strong performances. They I enjoyed watching, but Ariola and Johnston’s pay off is, as my friend put it, “like one big shrug.” I couldn’t agree more – Meh. We simply do not care about the characters or their story. I suppose as I watched I might have tried harder to get into the metaphorical and physical journey of Mike and Wallace/Arthur, but nothing about them inspired me to. I feel certain Johnston and Ariola knew where they were going when they began, they just never truly arrive.
Because of Firth and Blunt and in spite of Heche and the others, Arthur Newman is not a complete disaster, but I am guessing it is an Indy film that will make it way to DVD pretty quickly. I am placing a C- in my grade book. I wish I could give higher, but, if I am being honest, it probably deserves lower.