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Phony Emotional Connections Trip Up ‘Arthur Newman’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – In what could be subtitled, “The Challenge of American Accents,” the new release “Arthur Newman” has a laugh-inducing U.S. inflection face-off between Brits Colin Firth and Emily Blunt. Amid that obstacle, there is a lame road picture that emotionally is false, and makes no sense.

The film wants to create a mystery, but doesn’t want to solve it. The name “Arthur Newman” has been purchased by a man for reasons that really don’t become clear. Arthur has committed a crime against his ex-wife and family, but that crime is not clear. And when he does hit the road with his new name, he meets a strung out fellow traveler who may be a hooker, but resolves herself rather cleanly and becomes a spunky companion. All the so-called emotional connections between the two are based on a high concept adventure, and features little chemistry between them. Arthur Newman, the man and the movie, is a mess.

The film opens with a Florida man named Avery Wallace (Colin Firth) buying his new identity, “Arthur Newman.” Avery obviously has a plan, and makes sure he tells that plan to his girlfriend Mina (Anne Heche) and his son (Lucas Hedges). With very calculated movements, he throws away Avery and becomes Arthur. To punctuate this move, he is now driving a Mercedes convertible.

Emily Blunt, Colin Firth
Looking for Identity: Mike (Emily Blunt) and Arthur in ‘Arthur Newman’
Photo credit: Cinedigm

Arthur’s road trip is interrupted immediately with a commotion in front of his hotel on the first night of his escape. A feisty girl named Mike (Emily Blunt) is causing trouble with a what seems like a prostitution situation. Arthur finds her sleeping by the hotel pool, and takes her to a hospital due to a drug overdose. Somehow this means he has adopted her, so cue the road trip music. Arthur and Mike are on their way to a new life in Terre Haute, Indiana, and what they will find on that journey will help to define the discovery of their inner selves.

First off, the American accents. Firth has done one before, most notably in his superior “A Single Man.” But this time, he wants to show off. His accent sounds like Foghorn Leghorn meets a Cajun restaurant owner, with bits of Firth’s distinctive voice mixed in. Emily Blunt actually tries to outdo Firth’s odd sound, and her flat accent sounds like a Valley Girl without the twang. It’s distracting for this particular story, to have two British actors with very well known voices riffing in such a way. It is also ultimately ironic considering the theme of the film is “what does identity mean?”

Firth and Blunt don’t have much chemistry, even though they are supposedly road warriors who eventually are attracted to each other. Around their hidden identities is a game they play – finding random couples, breaking into their homes and “becoming” them, or pretending to. It’s freaky and unsettling, plus there are so many hoops to jump through to get to the concept it’s hardly worth the effort. Even when they are pretending to be other people, they have no chemistry.

At home, Anne Heche as Mina moves into Arthur’s home, and confronts his son there in a symbolically sexual way. This has a bit of intrigue, but there is no follow through. In fact, all of the intrigue in the back stories are badly handled. The reason Avery/Arthur is changing his name isn’t extreme enough, or clear enough, to make any sense. Also somehow he ends up with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and a Mercedes convertible, even though the job he described as having doesn’t seem that cash friendly. Guessing about where that came from is more interesting than what happens in the story.

Emily Blunt, Colin Firth
Arthur and Mike Get Intimate in ‘Arthur Newman’
Photo credit: Cinedigm

This film needed to go darker or stay at home. There is no desperation in Arthur and Mike, even though they’re suppose to be desperate characters. And this is where their British manners float to the surface, Colin and Emily are simply too polite to play Americans on the run. There is nothing wrong with Avery/Arthur that a little communication wouldn’t clear up, especially in confronting the mysterious circumstance of the estrangement from his family. And the happy ending that awaits Mike is so predictable, and therefore stupid, that it negates everything about the character that happened before that end.

There is no distinct stamp on “Arthur Newman,” in both the character and the film. This journey just moves along with no purpose, with a floundering twosome searching for something they seem to already have. As another character in the film said in exposing Arthur, “I looked you up on Google.” That could have saved us all some time.

”Arthur Newman” has a limited release, including Chicago, on April 26th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Emily Blunt, Colin Firth, Anne Heche and Lucas Hedges. Screenplay by Becky Johnson. Directed by Dante Ariola. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

amberina's picture

Inaccuracies ruin credibility of this review

Snarky reviews can be fun to read, but this hits a more harsh, jaded note that doesn’t give credit to the strengths of the actors in this film. Perhaps the reviewer is due for a Newman-style roadtrip of his own? In any case, he is no expert on accents, and should check his facts, as Mr. Firth was in no way playing an American accent in “A Single Man”. Here’s hoping you get a much-needed vacation, and come back with a more accurate and balanced viewpoint.

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