It’s a risky move casting a stand-up comedian in a film role because ultimately, they will play themselves and that only appeals to some of the audience. These decisions are usually made because it’s a great way to cash in on the growing or already huge fan base of a particular comedian and the first few roles are just that comedian being himself in a specific story. Comedians can then become great comedic or even dramatic actors. The first few Eddie Murphy films were just Eddie Murphy being Eddie Murphy but soon he managed to make films that were less reflective of his stand-up and more him playing a role.
The other issue casting an established stand-up comedian gives you is that they are the centre of the film. They will usually be the main character and the jokes will revolve around them so if you aren’t a fan of their stand-up or style of comedy, you won’t like the film. Luckily for Arthur, I like Russell Brand’s style of humour and stand-up and I think he was a great casting choice for Arthur.
The reason he was great is because he is believable as a man who has never wanted for anything and as a result, never grown up. He can be silly, stupid and childish but also very likable, all at the same time. Considering this was Russell Brand’s first film where he was the sole starring role, holding the movie together, he manages it almost effortlessly. The film caters to his style of humour and you can see that there are moments when he is allowed to ad-lib and improvise lines. The issue with the ad-lib being that if you don’t like Brand’s unique look at the world or way with words, you won’t appreciate what he is doing or find the film very funny.
It’s not just the comedy Brand does really well either. The film, at times, requires him to be much more dramatic and tap into real emotion. A lot of that drama hinges on the relationship he has with his “nanny,” played brilliantly by Helen Mirren. I can’t imagine anyone else being able to play the straight-faced, no-nonsense Hobson and the way that Mirren manages to throw herself into the role and do or say some of the most ridiculous and funniest things to the anarchic Brand makes for some of the films best moments. You can see that Brand and Mirren get on really well in “real life” and it plays out brilliantly on-screen too.
The main issue Arthur has is that it works best as a series of funny, clever and crazy situations for Brand’s character to get into, rather than an actual story. Watching him try to get a job or ride a horse is funnier and more appealing than watching his character develop and grow. The more Arthur slowly changes and begins to realise what he is capable of and how he needs to act, the less you are interested in his character or the film. It is still funny in places but never as good as when it’s just Brand, messing around and playing off Mirren. When Brand has to actually act and he becomes more of a “character,” the film is a lot less interesting.
Overall, a very good film. If you like Russell Brand, you will find this very funny, maybe even hilarious. Brand is hardly doing anything to stretch his acting ability but that is part of the charm of the film. Helen Mirren is brilliant too and makes for one of the best characters in the film, sometimes overshadowing Brand himself. It does begin to lose its way and charm towards the end but is well worth a watch.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)