There's rich. There's movie-star rich. And then there's Arthur.
Arthur is positively, putridly rich—so stinkin' wealthy that he'd need to marinate in Old Spice just to cut through his CO (currency odor). He sheds cash the way collies shed fur, spreads moola like most folks spread garden fertilizer. He has so much ka-ching that he doesn't know what to do with it all.
But that doesn't keep him from trying.
Arthur, heir to a monstrously successful family business, spends his unearned fortune on magnetic beds and Batmobiles, gold binoculars and silver spoons. But the bulk of his cash goes for more transient, prurient pleasures: liquor and prostitutes. So it's not just Arthur's funds that are filthy.
It's also why Arthur's mother, Vivienne, thinks it's about time her little boy finally grows up. It doesn't seem as though Hobson, Arthur's long-suffering nanny, can keep the man-child in check anymore (if she ever could), so Vivienne decides to try a different tack: Marry him off. Vivienne knows the perfect girl, too: Susan Johnson, a beautiful, bright and ambitious young woman who has the moxie to run the family biz and the grit to bring Arthur to heel. Oh, Vivienne knows Arthur doesn't love Susan, but he adores the family fortune—can't do without it, really. So she gives her son an ultimatum: Marry Susan or forfeit your wealth.
Arthur knows which side of his platinum-plated toaster his bread pops out of. He agrees to the arrangement, and Mom applauds his "talent for self-preservation."
But a fly has landed in Arthur's perfumed ointment, and her name is Naomi. This full time tour guide and part-time writer charms the sequined socks off New York's favorite gadabout, even though she doesn't have a penny to her name. But to be with her, Arthur will have to break off the engagement and give up his fortune.
So what's it going to be—filthy rich or dirt poor? And, if Arthur chooses the latter, does he at least get to keep the Batmobile?
Looking at Arthur's behavior, you'd think the guy was raised by a posse of inebriated rappers. Considering his lifetime guardian has been the sensible, stoic Hobson, you'd think he would've turned out better.
Hobson represents Arthur's sole source of stability—a woman who's been with the man-child since he was a child-child. And while guiding Arthur is like trying to steer a tornado, she does what she can. She tries to force him to think about the wisdom of carrying on a relationship with Naomi while engaged to Susan: "An engagement is a promise," she tells him. "Be a man." She takes him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting—and when he refuses to take it seriously, she stands up and speaks some hard truths for him, ripping away the curtain of wealth to reveal the real emptiness of Arthur's life. Near the end of the film she reveals a secret: When Arthur was 3 she had planned to leave her post as nanny to be with her one true love. But just before she was to depart, Arthur's father died, and she decided to stay. "I loved you," she tells him.
It's only when Hobson gets sick that Arthur begins to grow up. "Please let me look after you," he tells her. He brews her tea and cooks her lunch. He also gains maturity through his relationship with Naomi. During their courtship, Arthur encourages her to write a children's book—then secretly buys a publishing company to guarantee it'll get published. When Naomi learns what Arthur did, she's furious: "I thought that I had earned it," she tells him, adding how nice it is to earn something … something Arthur knows nothing about. She also tells him, flat-out, that he has a serious problem.
[Spoiler Warning] Hobson dies, and Arthur runs back to Naomi. And in what I think is the film's most resonant, refreshing twist, Naomi rightfully rejects him. "I'm so sorry," she says. "But I can't be her replacement." It's only after six months—an interlude that Arthur uses to sober up and get a job (of sorts)—that they meet again and a healthier relationship can form. Arthur says it was unfair of him to ask her to take care of him "when what I want more than anything else in the world is to take care of you."
Arthur jokingly tells someone at a construction site that nails "made a hero out of Jesus." Naomi tells Arthur that the painted constellations on the ceiling of Grand Central Station are actually backwards, but the Vanderbilts asked the painters to leave them the way they were—saying that it was how the gods must see them. "Trust the Vanderbilts to see the heavens from God's perspective," Arthur says.
While leading a tour, Naomi points to statues of Greek gods and tells her charges that sometimes they come alive and go to strip clubs. Susan and Arthur are nearly married in a huge cathedral by a priest who emphasizes the solemnity of the ceremony. Hobson jokes that she's slipping into death, and that she sees people brandishing pitchforks on the "other side." Posthumously she tells Arthur, "I'm smiling down at you … or more likely, up at you."
Arthur is a veritable raunchfest, and counting all of the sexual problems in this film would take more time than doing Arthur's taxes. So I'll settle for just the gist:
Arthur hires prostitutes and spends lots of time with women of less-than-sterling standards. One of his partners is said to have "incredible flexibility." (Hobson walks in on her and him.) In a painting, Arthur and an unidentified woman are shown in a state of semi-undress and in a suggestive pose. We see a bedmate of his in her underwear. We see him wearing nothing but a pair of skimpy briefs. Susan goes to Arthur's flat dressed in revealing lingerie, pretends to be a cat and then sexually attacks him with a riding crop. We see underwear scattered about his apartment after a wild party. At the altar Arthur mentions that he's slept with three members of the bridal party, shortly before stripping down to his skivvies. A photo shows Arthur displaying his privates (they're pixelated) to the camera.
Conversation includes references to Arthur having sex with people he can't remember the next morning, venereal diseases, nude sunbathing, throwing up or urinating on a sexual partner, visiting gay bars in Copenhagen and purposing marriage to "validate unwanted pregnancy." Arthur makes several references to his testicles. Hobson says that Arthur has a breast fixation and was after hers "until he was 6." Susan suggests, perhaps jokingly, that she's interested in girls. Arthur, who voyeuristically spies on people who are taking baths, comments on their supposed sexual preferences. He makes several sex-related jokes.
Vivienne suggests cheating as Arthur's ticket to both the money and the girl he likes. Arthur considers it, asking Naomi whether she'd be willing to live in a secret room.
Bitterman, Arthur's chauffeur, runs the Batmobile into a statue of a bull while being pursued by police. Arthur spars with former heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield before Hobson climbs into the ring, puts on a glove and punches Arthur in the face. She tells Holyfield that unless Arthur stops sparring, she'll blame him and "bite off your other ear." Susan, for her part, punches Arthur repeatedly in the face.
Playing with a nail gun, Arthur accidentally shoots a couple of nails into the man who is to be his father-in-law. The unlucky chap plucks the nails out of his skin (leaving bloody wounds behind), then tries to get Arthur to stick his tongue into a spinning saw. Arthur jokes about killing his mother.
Crude or Profane Language
Two s-words and a smattering of milder profanities (some of which are spoken by very young children), including "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑" and "pr‑‑k." God's name is abused eight or 10 times (paired twice with "d‑‑n"), and Jesus' is misused once. We hear the British profanities "bloody," "b-gger" and "b-llocks."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Arthur's passion for alcohol is unremitting. He keeps vodka in his exercise water bottle, calls for a "cauldron of tequila" and carries a flask of booze with him at all times. When police stop him and ask if he's drunk again, Arthur says no: "I have remained drunk since our last encounter."
The movie tells us that Arthur's dependency on alcohol is bad, and we hear occasionally about its negative impact on his life. But the only time moviegoers see it as a negative is right after Hobson's death: Arthur hosts a raucous party while being in a state of intoxicated depression. Without Hobson, the hollowness of his lifestyle is laid bare.
Arthur pulls out of his drunken stupor eventually. Though he ridicules AA at first ("this is making me want to drink more," he tells Hobson), he embraces the system after she dies. We see him regaling AA members with stories of his former debauchery, but he proudly holds up a plastic coin that marks six months of sobriety. "I think this is the most I ever valued a coin," he says.
When Susan shows up at Arthur's pad, she admits to drinking two bottles of champagne. Children mention several drugs, including meth and crack.
Other Negative Elements
Bitterman and Arthur drive recklessly. Naomi operates as an unlicensed tour guide and runs away from the police. Arthur and his mother seem barely on speaking terms. Arthur bails out a host of incarcerated prisoners just for the "fun" of it. He calls Hobson "Mary Poppins with menopause." He encourages children to steal candy. And he makes several jokes about the bull statue's testicles.
After Hobson gets sick, Arthur fixes her a SpaghettiOs knock-off for lunch. He asks her what she thinks of it.
"It is unpleasant," she says. "But it is quite nice."
That, for me, sums up Arthur, a remake of the 1981 comedy. I typically have little patience for these sorts of man-child stories, but this one at least tried to land things nicely: The child grows up. He takes on responsibility. Arthur, at long last, figures out that life isn't all about alcohol and magnetic beds.
But to get there we plow through some unpleasant territory. We're encouraged to applaud Arthur when he gives up his booze—but also encouraged to laugh at and excuse his irresponsible inebriation leading up to that decision. He spins true-to-life tales for his AA buddies about his past exploits, and they all chuckle at them … even though the stories of real-life alcoholics are rarely funny at all. The movie skips right past Arthur's six-month journey to sobriety—presumably because it wouldn't be very entertaining.
So the film's last-reel conversion to sobriety feels a little insincere—the obligatory moral tacked onto a tale filled with unconfessed, unredeemed bad behavior. It's fairly fitting, then, that in the last scene Arthur drives into the metaphorical sunset in his Batmobile … the police in hot pursuit.