PG, but a hilariously inappropriate PG. The entire movie is about a lush who just keeps boozing and doing inappropriate behavior. The film often makes light of sex work and the vows of matrimony. The movie glorifies theft and crime. Also, some of the clothing in the movie is a little more than suggestive. It's not like this is a completely risque comedy, but it also would be way more than PG in today's culture. Still, it's Arthur, so whatever.
DIRECTOR: Steve Gordon
Okay, I don't think I've ever wanted to quit a movie quicker than Arthur. Arthur is one of those movies that I know more from The Critic than I do any actual litmus of film standard. If someone put this on a Modern Classics list, I would say that it is one of those movies that is quickly going to be forgotten to history. (Note: I have this theory that a lot of the movies that we considered to be untouchable will be lost to ebb and flow of history. It's surprising how few people have seen The Godfather.) But I was on a flight and I stuck with it. I mean, the first ten minutes are some of the most excruciating moments in cinema I've had to deal with. And, for the most part, I'm glad I stuck with it. By the end of the movie, I had a better time than I thought I would. It's not a great movie, but there is something there that makes this movie worth watching.
The big takeaway that I had is that Arthur honestly works better as a drama than a comedy. I wondered why I wasn't laughing at the humor of Arthur for a lot of the movie. After all, on the page, Arthur's dialogue reads a lot like Groucho Marx or Woody Allen. There's a setup and Arthur, in all of his boozehound glory, responds with a witticism or a retort. I should absolutely love it. But between context and delivery, there's something really sad about the character of Arthur when he's being his full-blown alcoholic self. I mean, it's the alcoholism that people remember about this movie, isn't it? It isn't the rich guy problems that I actually kind of found charming. It was him showing up to places drunk, telling jokes, and then laughing at those jokes. But, like I stated, I wondered why I didn't care for a lot of Arthur's bits. And then it hit me. It was two specific things.
1) It was the fact that he laughed at his own bits. It's the same button that makes me loathe The Big Bang Theory. Instead of letting me react to the joke in my own way, Dudley Moore would chortle out this moment to let me know that the punchline had been delivered. I don't know if this is on Moore or Gordon, but I do know that it was annoying. The laughing became so big that, often, I wouldn't hear the punchline because the laugh would act as punctuation. 2) Arthur's in the wrong in all of the situations where he is drunk. That opening sequence, scored by the mellow tones of Burt Bacharach, has these good people simply enjoying their meal and Arthur comes in there like a braying donkey, laughing at forced jokes that are punching completely innocent people. I'm going to use a very odd point of juxtaposition, but I think it is apt. Borat will mess with the public all the time. But we don't see the majority of those moments, right? It's because someone's reaction that exposes their true personality is what makes it funny. The footage we get in the Borat movies is when someone exposes something toxic about their own personalities. With Arthur, he's just spraying an audience with comments, even if they've done nothing wrong. The insane thing is, it's a work of fiction. Gordon could have come up with things to make Arthur's targets worthy of his commentary.
But I'm also part of the equation. I never really found intoxication humor funny. I've kind of shied away from the works of W.C. Fields or Cheech and Chong. I find that often the people who find intoxication humor funny are people who embrace intoxication. That's not an absolute rule. After all, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is one of the most brilliant stoner comedies imaginable. But it relies on actual humor and amazing scripting to deliver those jokes. So when I watch a movie where the protagonist stumbles over his own two feet, I just feel sad. The thing is, the film begs that I root for the protagonist. There are elements where the movie teases that Arthur is supposed to grow up and that the theme of the film is the abandonment of childish alcoholism. But then the movie goes right back into it.
Because there is a moment where I think that the movie gets its act together. When the movie introduces Hobson's illness, Arthur sobers up. He becomes the adult that Hobson always wanted him to be and what his real personality is. There's a deep soul under there who understands that growing up doesn't mean abandoning the fun of life. When he gifts Hobson with cowboy hats, as silly as it is, it's a reminder of a joyful relationship that he had with his servant. It's about a kid who is learning to mourn a father who never existed and it's a touching moment. The alcoholism makes sense because people forgive Arthur for behavior appropriate for a child. He holds onto that dependence that childhood provides because it is the only thing that has given him joy. But in Hobson's death, Arthur realizes that he can still embrace the stuff of youth while being an adult...
...which is why the end of the movie is a travesty. Arthur, upon Hobson's death, goes on another bender. Coincidentally, Hobson's death is in line with his own wedding, which seems in poor taste. They're rich. They can afford to move the venue. But for the sake of storytelling, Arthur is drunk. And the movie commits this crime that I really can't forgive. Instead of having alcoholism be this toxic thing in Arthur's life that is holding him back from actually being vulnerable, it bookends the film with goofy alcoholic rants. When Susan's dad is beating him, I kind of relate. He ruined so much for his family and he's tired of Arthur always taking the easy path. If he broke off the wedding while sober, that fight would still be appropriate, but Arthur would come across as a bit more sympathetic than he does. Like, I don't feel bad for Arthur at all in that moment because he's goofy Arthur. Heck, I would feel bad for him if he was sad, introspective drunk Arthur. But no, he's stumble over himself and look like a goon Arthur and there's nothing fun about that.
And then there's the really weird relationship between Arthur and Linda. I mean, I never thought that Liza Minelli would make this amazing leading lady, but she really nails it in this movie. But I don't see what either Linda or Susan see in Arthur. Arthur is nice to Linda once. He gives her a perfect day, which I completely applaud. But Arthur just becomes a mess after that. He continually reminds Linda that she is less important than money and she still pursues him. His casual comments that she could be a sidepiece should be a deal-breaker, but she is still in this constant holding pattern for him. The funny thing is that Linda is both an avatar for the audience and a representation of real world capitalism. She works really hard for a living. For a day, she sees how the other half lives and she's swept off her feet. She doesn't have to keep on living for tips at a diner that abuses her. So for her to be this character who waits for Arthur? It doesn't ring true. What Arthur finds attractive about her is the fact that she is self-actualized and independent, the traits that Arthur completely lacks. I would like to state: I think that Linda would accept a marriage proposal from Arthur. But to be clear, I don't think that she would accept it from him when he was drunk. She's too good for that.
Every time that this movie got just a little vulnerable, it retreated back into this absolutely juvenile characterization of drunk Arthur and that was the thing that I needed scrapped from the film. There's nothing funny about it. It's just pathetic and the fact that it isn't central to the film as a problem sucks. It's such a bad step. And the fact that he still gets the money at the end removes any emotional stakes that the movie determined. The only prediction that I can have after this moment is that Arthur will continue being a drunk. Maybe he'll temper it a bit, but that sense of independence would never really happen. I'm also mad because the movie teases that he might have learned something. As much as the movie screams "Comedy happy ending", I read it more as absolutely tragic.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.