Life can't be as unsatisfying as 'Arthur Newman'
05:00 AM, Apr 26, 2013
It’s almost its own genre in indie films: Boring middle-aged man tired of his existence meets up with free-spirited but troubled younger woman. Romance and newfound meaning ensue.
Arthur Newman (* * out of four; rated PG-13; opening Friday in select cities) falls predictably into this cloying category.
Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) is a milquetoast man and recently fired store manager whose life hasn’t gone the way he hoped. He has a grand realization when he hooks up with Mike, short for Michaela (Emily Blunt), a woman he encounters on the road.
This drab tale of inauthentic people never bothers to drum up any psychological insight. All we know is that this mismatched pair want to escape their lives. But we don’t know what kind of lives they aspire to.
Adhering to conventions and clichés and staying resolutely superficial, it’s a waste of the considerable talents of Firth and Blunt.
The journey of self-discovery takes place on a cross-country road trip another obvious venue. On their meandering expedition, they engage in wacky high jinks, breaking into strangers’ homes, wearing their clothes, having sex on their beds. Ostensibly, they’re doing this to better grasp the essence of their own disappointing lives. As a form of therapy, it seems questionable. As entertainment, it grows wearying.
Avery was once a golf pro so obsessed with the sport that he neglected his wife and young son, Kevin. Now divorced and in a blah relationship with Mina (Anne Heche), he’s paying the price with a lonely,listless life. The teenage Kevin (Lucas Hedges) avoids him like the plague.
But none of this rings particularly true. His relationship with Mina is shown in only one short scene. The filmmakers never bother to let the audience in on why he finds it so dissatisfying. So it’s all the more mystifying why she chooses to hole up in her boyfriend’s house while he goes missing. It appears to be just for exposition purposes, as Kevin comes over and attempts to know his dad by asking awkward questions about his love life.
Avery engineered his disappearance in order to become a new man. Hence the obvious moniker he assumes Arthur Newman.
He buys a new identity, bound for a country club in Indiana, where he hopes to reinvent himself as a golf pro. Early in the trip, at a scuzzy roadside motel, he meets Michaela/Mike, a drug-addled kleptomaniac with a heart of gold. He finds her charming. She even robs him of all his life’s savings, and he’s OK with that. She’s trying to escape her life as well, hoping to outrun a family history of mental illness and avoid her institutionalized twin sister.
But should they escape their responsibilities and reinvent themselves? Can they embrace their lives and still be together? Do we care?
Not as much as we should. Arthur Newman is an old story and chronically, consistently uninvolving.