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Arthur Newman (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 96 minutes.

Not for Children.

This is the strange story of two strange people, Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) and Michaela “Mike” Fitzgerald (Emily Blunt). Wallace is dissatisfied with approaching middle-age life, gets a new identity, fakes suicide, and abandons his life which includes his young son from whom he is estranged. He meets Mike who is also running away from her old life. Both are dysfunctional, to say the least.

This is directed by Dante Ariola, who is making his feature film debut after a successful career as an award-winning director of commercials. He proves his talent here as this could have been a slow, draggy, disaster. On the contrary, while it is talky and strange it certainly holds your interest.

The screenplay by Becky Johnston was written 20 years ago with Nick Nolte in mind as Arthur. Twenty years later Ariola says that Firth was the only person he had in mind as Arthur. Because Arthur and Mike travel around in a car and invade people’s homes for casual sex, Ariola directed it like a road movie along the lines of Five Easy Pieces (1970), and that’s the way Johnston wrote it. Both Ariola and Johnston admit to being strongly influenced by the pacing of the movies of the ‘70s.

Unusual for movies, this was shot chronologically. Firth and Blunt didn’t know each other, so Ariola started shooting with little rehearsal so that they could get to know one another personally as they were playing characters who are getting to know one another onscreen. As a result, the familiarity that they eventually develop on screen is even more realistic and does not arise just from “acting.”

I have one main criticism of this film. There is a scene in which Arthur chokes on a piece of food. The way Ariola directs it is not the way life-threatening choking occurs. When someone is really choking he can make no noise whatsoever, which is why people often die before someone can help them. In this scene, however, Arthur is making noise is gagging and gasping for air. This is not factual or realistic. It’s a shame that this was not presented realistically because approximately 3000 adults die each year choking on food. Ariola had an opportunity to present real food choking as it actually occurs and do a service to mankind through a major motion picture.

Although the script predates it by decades, the movie follows the road started by “Silver Linings Playbook” in that it deals in depth with a love affair by two people with mental illness. Strange as the movie is, Ariola clearly has mastered pace, and it is the pace of the film that makes it as watchable and interesting as it is. It goes without saying that Firth and Blunt give wonderful performances. When have they not? This passed the watch test with flying colors.

April 22, 2013