SCORE: 3 stars (out of 4)
OK, so hear me out. This movie is about Colin Firth having hot, dress-up sex with this drifter named Mike.
Hey, I said to hear me out! Where did everyone go? Would it help if I told you Mike was not a mullet-wearing truckstop bathroom stall cruiser, but a fun, adventurous party girl played by Emily Blunt? And even better, a particularly naughty version of Emily Blunt with such low standards that she’s willing to not only hang with, but relentlessly sex up, a middle-aged loser with a beer gut?
Sticking the saucy Blunt character with a particularly off-putting name such as “Mike” reflects the boner-killing quality of the movie’s choice of title. “Arthur Newman” is pretty much the most boring thing the film – or anything, for that matter – could have possibly been named.
What it’s really about is a man and his dream. Who hasn’t, like Firth’s character, Wallace Avery, dreamed of faking his own death, assuming a new name, then trolling the great wide open for an aimless, lonely nymphomaniac who resembles Emily Blunt? Surely even Barack Obama or Drew Brees grew up with similar dreams, but had to settle for fallback options.
Yet Wallace Avery lives that marvelous fantasy. He ditches his failed career, miserable wife and bratty kid, scoops up passed-out Mike up off a bench and nurses her back to health. After she comes to, Mike is at first a little skeeved out, but soon takes a liking to him and wants to show her appreciation in the face-licking sort of way. Firth’s character isn’t into it at first, trying to play the benevolent gentleman card as long as possible, but there’s only so long he can hold out. It helps pique his interest that Mike, too, is harboring a secret past.
While watching Blunt attempting to seduce him with bedroom gymnastics that would draw a perfect score from even the stingy Russian judge, Firth dons a creepy expression that seems familiar. That’s because it’s the exact look he wore in Where the Truth Lies, when he watches Alison Lohman get busy with a hooker in an Alice in Wonderland costume. If you’re unfamiliar with the expression, watch the movie, then put a mirror in front of your face when that scene comes up, and you’ll see an example on your own face.
Then things start to get a little serious. Eventually, as all relationships do, theirs evolves into the stage in which they invade peoples’ homes, dress up in their clothes and start making dirty, disappointingly tastefully edited-style love to each other while pretending to be the people they’re dressed up as.
The movie is what’s known to film buffs as a “character study,” which translates to “nothing resembling a plot here.” So it lives and dies by its performances and dialogue. Blunt does some solid work here, particularly when she’s pretending to be attracted to Firth and tumbling into her spontaneous seduction fantasies.
It’s sort of annoying to watch Firth’s character be miserable and conflicted for so much of the time, especially given that the costume department made sure he’s often wearing Emily Blunt. Credit the guy, though, because it takes some real acting to pull off a blank expression when Blunt is using attempting to get inside his pants using Blunt-force trauma.
You’re not sure whether to give him an Oscar or a cigar.
Starring Emily Blunt and Colin Firth. Written by Becky Johnson. Directed by Dante Ariola. 101 minutes. Rated R.