‘Arthur’ Star Greta Gerwig Steals the Show

Few were surprised when Warner Brothers cast Russell Brand as the lead in the remake of the 1981 classic “Arthur.” After all, Dudley Moore’s lovable drunk is only a stone’s throw from Brand’s entire persona.

Helen Mirren being cast as Arthur’s long-suffering servant Hobson was also not especially surprising. The part was originally played by Sir John Gielgud, who won an Oscar for his effort. In this new version, the gender switch does add a little Oedipal frisson to Hobson’s relationship to her charge. Yet in many ways, Mirren is Gielgud’s later-day equivalent, tapped whenever Hollywood needs to evoke the British upper crust.

But the real surprise in the movie is Greta Gerwig, who fills in for Liza Minelli as Arthur’s love interest. Her performance in the movie is — and I mean this in the best possible way — so affectless that she comes off as bracingly real and utterly disarming. She provides a welcome counterpoint to Brand’s antics and ends up walking away with the movie.  Her performance turns what by all rights should be another anemic remake into a surprisingly charming film.

Gerwig got her start in movies in the 2006 micro-budget indie flick “LOL” while a senior at Barnard College. The movie was directed by Joe Swanberg, the dean of the so-called “mumblecore” movement, and, like other films of its ilk, “LOL” featured a youthful cast, an improvised meandering script, and an artless, matter-of-fact style of filmmaking. Gerwig went on to make several other movies with Swanberg, including “Nights and Weekend,” which she co-wrote and co-directed.

Her efforts caught the attention of director Noah Baumbach who cast her opposite Ben Stiller in last year’s indie hit “Greenberg.” Her off-hand acting style, honed by years in mumblecore flicks, earned raves.

“Ms. Gerwig, most likely without intending to be anything of the kind, may well be the definitive screen actress of her generation,” gushed the New York Times.

With that kind of press, you will likely see a lot more from her in the future. Later this year, Gerwig is slated to star opposite Adam Brody in Whit Stillman’s long anticipated directorial return, “Damsels in Distress.”

In the meantime, “Arthur” opens everywhere this weekend.

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April 2011

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