24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

« Previous | 24 Frames Home | Next »

'Arthur' director defends his remake: It allowed us to make a movie we never could have otherwise made

April 8, 2011 |  7:21 pm

If you heard about an "Arthur" remake and felt skeptical, you're not alone: Director Jason Winer was also uncertain about the need for a new Russell Brand take on the Dudley Moore classic.

"I felt the same way when I first heard that they were remaking it. I was like, 'Why?'" Winer told 24 Frames about his movie about the carefree drunk forced to choose between love and money. "For our generation," he said, turning to a thirtysomething reporter and describing how he used to watch the movie after school when it aired on HBO, "we have fond memories of it as kids and it's natural to be skeptical about remaking it. But I  think at least half of the audience haven't even heard of the original, or if they have, they haven't seen it.

"The other reason is that every once in a while the right actor comes along to do one of these things. And then it's like, 'Oh my goodness.' And if there's one guy who can reinvent this for a new generation, it's Russell," he said (alluding to Brand's outsize personality and his real-life struggles with substance abuse).

But Winer said that perhaps his greatest motivation was, counterintuitively, a remake's capacity for more creative freedom.

"This type of movie, which is an irreverent comedy that combines elements of romance and drama, is not something the studios feel comfortable making today -- except if it's a familiar title," the director said. "As critics and as filmmakers, we like to criticize a remake. The irony is that in this case it lets us do a genre the studios wouldn't otherwise be comfortable with."

The movie, one of the first in this remake-crazed era to tackle an adult-targeted film, has run into plenty of unfavorable comparisons with the original from critics and others. Winer, a first-time feature director who is one of the principal creative forces behind hit ABC show "Modern Family," said in the interview (which was conducted before much of the critical reaction began coming in) that one of the biggest challenges he faced was deciding what to retain and what to discard from the original.

The new Warner Bros. release does deviate from Steve Gordon's original in plenty of instances, as we document in this piece. But one element it maintains (note: spoiler alert; skip ahead if you don't want to know) is the third-act death of Hobson, the only permanent figure in Arthur's life. Such a plot turn would have been a tough sell in any other context, Winer said.

"If we were making an original movie, we never would have been able to have Hobson die. A studio would have tested it and said, 'Can't you just make her get better?' But now we could say to the studio -- 'Well, it's in the original.'"

Among the changes that Winer and screenwriter Peter Baynham did make was turning Hobson, played in an Oscar-winning turn by John Gielgud in the original, into a woman, played by Helen Mirren. "One of the big problems of how to remake this movie is how you get out from under the shadow of Gielgud's performance," Winer said. "And the nanny dynamic is not only funny but it reinvents it."

Perhaps the biggest switch (warning -- another spoiler alert): While the original ends with Moore's alcoholism intact, Brand goes to AA and gets sober. Winer says he knew some will criticize him for a recovery-centric ending but says his move had a certain logic.

"We're not trying to make up a parable about an alcoholic. But there is some sense of responsibility that has more to do with growing up than it has to do with not drinking," Winer said. "The way Arthur grows up is by realizing he doesn't need to heighten everything or blunt everything with alcohol."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Helen Mirren and Russell Brand in "Arthur." Credit: Warner Bros.


Russell Brand's Arthur: How much has changed in 30 years?

Movie review: 'Arthur'

Russell Brand makes his case for leading-man status


Comments () | Archives (9)

The comments to this entry are closed.

The original Arthur is a masterpiece. As for the remake, Oh, you're a hedge.

It's an insult to Dudley Moore's legacy and to rest of the original cast.

While I'm certain Russell Brand can do a great impersonation of Dudley Moore, he's not Dudley Moore.

John Gielgud is spinning like a lathe. Shame on all of you.
"How revolting!"

Guess the Hollywoodies can't be original and imaginative. That hasn't happened in a long long time. Maybe it never will again, so who cares. I don't go to movies anymore anyway.

This guy is the definition of stockholm syndrome.

Hollywood doesn't like to produce irreverent comedies these days? What is he talking about? Quite the opposite. Sincerity is what Hollywood doesn't to touch these days, not "irreverent comedies!"

Key difference from the original: Arthur never really grows up, even at the end. Now that's the ending Hollywood would never endorse these days, unless they were making a Peter Pan meets Arthur remake!

"alluding to Brand's outsize personality"???

This a man for whom comedy can be found in phoning an 78 year old (Andrew Sachs, Manuel in Fawlty Towers) and leaving a series of obscene messages on his answerphone relating how he had had sex with his granddaughter, including such witticisms as "it was consensual and she wasn't menstrual", taping the whole episode and broadcasting it on national radio. Presumably the sort of thing that Madison and Jefferson were seeking to protect with the First Amendment...

enough with the remakes. it's a horribly sad state of affairs that Hollywood would not feel comfortable making this same story 30 years later if it were not a remake. we're really slipping culturally. i think the whole top brass at all major studios need to be given the heave-ho. additionally, studios should not be public companies with stockholders who only care about the bottom line. This is the arts, jerks. None of the original moguls were business school grads and they BUILT this place. GO INTO ANOTHER LINE OF WORK.

I don't agree with this work done. What came to mind are my words: Respect the original. The film shouldn't be tampered with in the first place since the concept was much funnier than that of this carbon-copy clunker. Mirren wasn't fit to be a comedian because of her serious facial demeanor she applied from her Academy experience. On the other hand, Brand appeared to use his narrowly slangy trademark tongue & body movement to dazzle the audience as a clown unlike Moore acted with sheer perfection as a drunk. Unfortunately, this director is spinning the late actor's grave towards madness.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: