Let me see if I properly understood the premise of ‘Arthur,” the unfortunate remake of the Dudley Moore classic. It’s possible I did not. Here’s what I’ve got: Russell Brand’s character deals with familial pressure to marry the wealthy, professionally successful, sex crazed Susan Johnson, played by the beautiful Jennifer Garner.
Suffice to say, I spent a lot of the movie confused.
I know the negative portrayal in film of women who generally have their shit together is a pet peeve of mine, but indulge me for a second. Indulge me, because I think this is an amazingly stupid case of this phenomenon.
Admittedly, Arthur was always premised around a man choosing between love and money. In the original version – the good version, with Dudley Moore, which I love – Arthur is a bored, witty alcoholic millionaire whose parents want him to marry demure debutante Susan Johnson. Susan loves him, he’s pretty clear that he doesn’t love her, but she’s all, “oh, Arthur, I love you, you’ll learn to love me” and his family threatens to cut him off if he doesn’t marry her, so he’s willing to go along with it. He’s nice to Susan, and seems to agree with everyone that she’s a lovely girl. But then he meets a sarcastic, hilarious shoplifting waitress named Linda (played by Liza Minelli) – who’s brash and terrific – and things get complicated. Towards the end, Arthur tells Susan she’s been the one innocent person in the entire situation. So, you feel that Arthur is irresponsible and a drunk, but basically a really decent person. And hell, it makes sense that someone who loved wacky mayhem and was bored by the world he lived in would rather be with a super-funny shoplifter than a very polite deb. If anything, Susan’s only fault is that she’s too ladylike and old fashioned.
So, basically, all you need to take away from that is that 1981 original Arthur falls in love with an acerbic, shoplifting waitress from Queens.
Okay, for the remake, it’s been updated. The new Susan Johnson – who is supposed to be Arthur’s ex instead of someone who just pined for him – is a highly competent businesswoman who is supposed to be voracious in bed. I kind of thought, “oh, that’s interesting, I guess in the author’s mind maybe that’s the new feminine ideal? We’ve come a long way, baby!”
Except, no. No, now Susan isn’t the one innocent person in everything. She’s now supposed to be a villain.
You can tell she’s the villain because of scenes like the one where Arthur leaps up in a restaurant and screams “I’ll publicly embarrass you all the time!” And then runs into the restaurant kitchen to slap some bowls over his chest and massage them in front of the other patrons. At which point Susan leaps up, grabs him by the arm, whispers, “embarrassing me or my family is something I’m not going to tolerate, now turn around and tell people you’re just crazy when you’re in love.” Which he does.
Which is where things get confusing, because that’s exactly the kind of thing the Liza Minelli character would have done in the first movie. And in the original, the fact that a woman was tough enough to not put up with Arthur’s bullshit was seen as being a really good thing. Now… I guess it’s a really bad thing?
Arthur seems to think so, because instead of telling people “she’s a lovely girl” with a doleful I -don’t-love-her sigh, Arthur now does things like sit around at her bridal shower making repeated jokes about how she’s a castrating bitch. At her bridal shower. Where her friends and family are. Not okay. Especially considering she’s his ex-girlfriend. They had a relationship. It’s made clear that they’ve slept together. In the original, Arthur knew to be a polite human being to a woman who he had no serious prior relationship with.
The only major difference, as a friend of mine pointed out, and the reason that it’s okay to villainize Susan, is that Susan never says she loves Arthur in the new version. Still. The fact that Arthur’s mother threatens to cut him off, so Arthur agrees to marry Susan Johnson, that’s okay. The fact that Susan Johnson is motivated to marry Arthur because she wants to control the company Arthur is heir to is very, very bad. I do not understand how this double standard works. It’s about money for both parties. Spoiler: at the end, Arthur’s mother expresses relief that she’s seen the truth about Susan Johnson. Lady. When Susan was all “let’s tie Arthur down so people will know the company will be in my capable hands” that was a clue that she was marrying him because she loved the company. Or, perhaps, not a clue so much as an outright statement.
Meanwhile, the new Linda – now named Naomi – is no longer a shoplifting waitress. She’s now an aspiring children’s book author, whose illegal behavior consists of leading unlicensed tours of Grand Central Station, because it’s just so beautiful. She’s blond, and really sweet, and nurturing. She loves Arthur so. She loves reading Frog and Toad. She loves cartoons. And she loves shiny elephants and Pez. You get the feeling that Naomi and the 1981 Susan Johnson would have gotten along pretty well, except Susan’s tastes would have been less kitschy.
I’d like to say that in the new version, Arthur chose to go with the debutante, but apparently he just chose to go with a woman who had all the same interests as a six year old child.
I guess we’ve regressed a long way, baby.