Road trip movies embrace the unusual, rumbling over one clunky comic pothole after another.
Arthur Newman, a road trip reinvention movie, restrains itself from such devices but doesn’t offer enough meaty moments to replace them.
Colin Firth plays Wallace Avery, a Fed Ex manager who stages his own death in order to start his life anew. Armed with fake identification, Wallace is now Arthur Newman, a confident bloke en route to Indiana to secure a gig as a golf pro.
It’s no wonder he wants to shake his life up like the proverbial Polaroid print. He’s divorced, his son barely acknowledges him and his professional life is terminally unsatisfying.
“Arthur” barely begins Life 2.0 when he runs into a feisty thief who goes by Mike (Emily Blunt). The two end up sharing space together without saying much, both happy for a semblance of company.
Their emotional scars become more evident as the story moves along, as does their penchant for reinvention. The two begin breaking into the homes of people and mimicking their lives, from an older honeymooning couple to sexually charged twenty-somethings who thrive on public displays of affection.
Meanwhile, Arthur and Mike strip away each other’s defenses to learn what’s really haunting them.
Firth could do button-downed despair in his sleep, so conveying a lost middle-aged soul is a snap. That shouldn’t minimize his work here. Arthur could be a bore in another actor’s care, but Firth lets us see the decency behind the character’s sad eyes.
Blunt’s Mike is equally compelling, even when she could simply be a sexually charged construct who gives Arthur a reason to wake up each morning.
What’s missing is the bigger picture, something Arthur Newman attempts to assemble but never adds the essential finishing touches. We get to know Wallace’s son but only in a perfunctory way. The same holds true for Wallace’s current girlfriend (Anne Heche), left to wonder if her beau is truly gone. The actress is cast nicely against type, slowly revealing her feelings in a way that mirrors the film’s respectful tone.
Arthur Newman quietly captures the heartbreak of lives unfulfilled, and the British leads summon seamless American accents. We still aren’t given enough to assume the characters’ new lives are worth investigating.