Saturday 11 July 2015

Movie Review: Arthur Newman (2012)

A middle-age crisis drama, Arthur Newman is the story of a man longing for a fresh start. The film unfolds at a steady clip and offers moments of reflection, but ultimately the narrative circles back on itself in a predictable manner.

In Florida, Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) is a former professional golfer who never lived up to his potential. Divorced, estranged from his teenaged son Kevin (Lucas Hedges), bored with his job and even tired of his new girlfriend Mina (Anne Heche), Wallace fakes his drowning death. He assumes the identity of Arthur Newman and starts driving to Terre Haute, Indiana, where he has lined up a job as a country club golf pro.

Along the way, Wallace meets a troubled young woman who goes by the name of Michaela or "Mike" (Emily Blunt). He saves her life from an overdose, and she joins him on his road trip. Gradually they learn about each other, become friends and then lovers. Back in Florida Kevin and Mina meet, establish a connection and try to understand what happened to the man they both thought they knew. Meanwhile Wallace realizes that while Mike is a lot of fun, she harbours dark secrets of her own, and both will find out that leaving the past behind is more difficult than it seems.

Directed by Dante Ariola, Arthur Newman does not have much new to say, but delivers its message with laudable honesty. The film treads over fairly obvious territory where the complexity of a new start appears more attractive than facing reality, only for the shine of escapism to quickly wear off. The film maintains its balance by keeping Wallace and Michael away from emotional peaks and in the realm of the possible, their version of going wild limited to a game of sexual adventurism involving harmless impersonation and breaking-and-entering.

Despite the mostly downbeat resonance, Ariola maintains balance with a drizzle of humour, and finds most interest in the unusual connection between Wallace's son and girlfriend. What starts as an awkward encounter between Kevin and Mina evolves into a coherent friendship of sorts, as they also go on a journey but of the mind rather than on the road. The film would have benefitted from spending more time with this couple, as Mina is particularly short-changed in the Becky Johnston script.

Colin Firth and Emily Blunt do all that is asked of them, both delivering understated performances conveying plenty of hidden frustration and uncertainty just below the surface. Wallace Avery is a particularly good fit for Firth's persona as a man quietly struggling against the inconvenient weight of past failings. But both Firth and Blunt do occasionally stumble with the Americanization of their English accents, and it is a puzzle as to why two actors so comfortable with their Englishness were asked to portray troubled Americans.

Arthur Newman wraps up in a tidy 101 minutes, enough time for Wallace and Mike to learn that when it comes to running from the past, physical distance is easy, emotional space not so much.

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