Dante Ariola’s studied drama “Arthur Newman” proves to be just about as bland and generic as the title character’s name suggests.
This movie, written by Becky Johnson, tells the sincere yet surprisingly unmoving story of two lost souls who find each other on a cross-country pilgrimage during which they fill in whatever voids they possess so they can return to the unappealing lives they so desperately sought to escape.
For us to even care about Arthur Newman, we need to know what compels him to leave his middle-class world behind and strike out on his own with a new car, career and identity. But we never see the real seeds of Arthur’s discontent.
Arthur is played by distinguished English actor Colin Firth, effecting a serviceable American accent.
In quick order, “Arthur Newman” sketches its titular character as an unhappy divorcee whose life has become an empty vessel.
His real name is actually Wallace Avery, a suburban flameout whose son (Sterling Beaumon) hates him. His ex-wife (Anne Heche) can barely be cordial to him. He has failed in business, in marriage, in fatherhood and in himself.
One day Wallace buys a new identity (from super character actor M. Emmet Walsh) for a “real” dead man, Arthur Newman. Then, Wallace clumsily fakes his own death at the beach and takes off on the road to self-discovery in a Mercedes convertible.
Wallace refashions himself as a golf pro named Arthur Newman, based on his own fascination with the game, despite lacking the ability to handle it as a profession. He heads to Terre Haute, Ind., where he has been vaguely promised a job as a golf instructor at a club.
Along the way, he meets a kindred soul in a troubled, lost young hottie named Mike (Emily Blunt), whose real name is Charlotte, at least sometimes.
Together, they become the lite Bonnie and Clyde of the Midwest, breaking into rich people’s homes, eating their food, drinking their booze, trying on their clothes and sleeping in their beds.
There might be some metaphor here for Arthur and Mike trying on new personas to see what they like. But these two characters are about as fascinating as porridge when they go about their wild crime spree of turning private homes into unwilling bed-and-breakfast facilities.
Firth and Blunt give it the college try in bringing their characters to full bloom — Blunt hints at deeper and darker hurts below her bruised surface — but they’re hampered by a script without much to say and a first-time feature director without much flair in saying it.
Ariola hails from the world of corporate commercials where narratives become condensed to 30-second and 60-second shorts.
With “Arthur Newman,” Ariola seems to have gone too far the other way, robbing the main characters and story of snap and crackle with a passive, leisurely pace and ill-defined supporting characters we don’t get to empathize with or understand.
You know a feature film is pretty drab when the biographies of the producers sound more fascinating than the protagonist’s plight.
Vertebra Films belongs to married New York surgeons Helen and Andy Cappuccino. He’s the team surgeon for the Buffalo Bills and the inventor of an artificial spine disc. She’s a noted surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Buffalo and a food writer for Gastronome magazine.
Chances are Helen and Andy won’t be running away from their lives because they’re so empty and meaningless. Yet, they produced a movie about people who do.
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