Colin Firth and Emily Blunt team-up in this quirky and off-beat romantic drama about identity. Unfortunately the film stumbles over its own premise quite early in the film and does very little to redeem what would have been a highly intriguing concept.
A man fakes his own death; adopts a new identity and takes a cross-country road trip in order to redefine himself. Along the way he comes across a young woman who is similarly in the midst of an identity crisis and the two bond as they try to make sense of their lives and themselves.
This film relies heavily on the two lead performances, and their chemistry, and will more than likely appeal to completists of Colin Firth and Emily Blunt.
The Bottom Line
Arthur Newman (Colin Firth) is a new man. He was once Wallace Avery, someone who was just a prop in his own middle-class story and decided a staged suicide was the only viable option to help redefine him. He leaves behind a loving girlfriend (Anne Heche); an outrageously spiteful wife and a son with, more or less, the same capacity for emotion as a pile of dry-cleaning. He buys a new car; the identity of a dead man and comfortably meanders toward an undisclosed goal (like all other mid-life crises, right?). Along the way he picks up a klepto-vagrant Goth (Emily Blunt) who overdoses on cough syrup outside his motel. Her identity and existence is similarly loitering in the shadow of uncertainty and they both decide she is “Mike”. For reasons that are incredibly questionable, Arthur and Mike stick together for their allegorical journey on the highway of life (if only Jack Kerouac had written his own “1001 places to visit…” for them to read) and the film dissolves into a pictorial cavort of shoddy motels and a guide to the bizarre transgressive-wannabe hobbies you can pick up on your next road trip. These mostly involve breaking into people’s houses, trying on their lives for size and pretending to be them for a few hours. This act gives Arthur and Mike the permission to relieve the sexual tension their growing friendship begets, and helps them explore their own complex personalities by being someone else – a person within a person within a person. Perhaps they will find their true selves in all those others? Sigmund Freud would be captivated.
The narrative is problematic – surprisingly not because of its strangeness, but rather because it unfolds in a way that is contrary to the feel of what was set-up. The beginning is intriguing enough and the mystery of it draws the audience in – we crave to know who this man is and what is driving him. Despite intercutting his story with the world he left behind, and answering some questions, far too many new questions arise and leave us completely perplexed to the point that watching Arthur’s choices is like watching a gushing garden-hose flail about randomly. The film places the characters in interesting situations and conjures up some transcendent thinking but is ultimately let-down by odd exposition.
Even more frustrating was the story of Arthur’s girlfriend, played by Anne Heche. The film slides her into the narrative in a scene that does not blatantly explain who she is and serves only to show that Arthur is after younger women and that she’s aware of it. This makes the lead character extremely unlikeable, especially considering that his girlfriend was genuinely in love with him and aching in the confusion he’s spewed up after exiting his old life. Arthur Newman is the character we should be rooting for, not his confused, grieving girlfriend who discovers in his absence the extent of his indifference and coldness.
The film is kept somewhat afloat by Colin Firth’s and Emily Blunt’s talent. They portray a distant heart-warming poignancy that would otherwise have been missed by an inexperienced actor. The rest of the ‘people’ in Arthur’s previous life are so unrelatable and unlikeable that it makes their presence in the film redundant and time-wasting.
I can only describe Arthur Newman as a romantic psychological road film (insert crickets). It’s not bad and deals with some heavily existential themes but without its own road map, the film is a journey of self-discovery with no destination in mind.