Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

April 30, 2013

CALLERI: New movie 'Arthur Newman' rides down an oft-traveled road

Niagara Gazette — It’s said that everyone has a little bit of Walter Mitty in their heart, Mitty being the character who dreamt rich fantasies about himself in the short story written by James Thurber. The fellow even has its own movie, “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty,” from 1947, with Danny Kaye as the good-natured Walter, a sweet and unassuming sort who in his reveries fought in wars, appeared in courtrooms, and practiced surgery. The huge popularity of Thurber’s dreamer even led to a word being coined: Mittyesque.

And Hollywood, true to its unoriginal self, is releasing a remake of the “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” this Christmas, with Ben Stiller directing and starring.

The key to the success of Mitty as a tall tale and a beloved character is his mild-mannered demeanor, his conflicted personality notwithstanding. When dealing with simple souls, motion picture directors and screenwriters need to tread lightly. They need to keep the comedy soft and the melodrama relatable.

A character similar to Mitty exists in the new comedy-drama “Arthur Newman,” which stars Colin Firth as Wallace Avery, an unhappy guy who dreams of a different life. Why the smooth, controlled, and richly talented Firth chose to play a miserable middle-class American failure is anyone’s guess. He not very good at it.

In the film, Wallace will abandon his rocky world in Florida. He’s a disgruntled shipping company manager, with a son who hates him, as well as an ex-wife and a current girlfriend. Wallace fakes his own death, purchases a new identity (Arthur Newman), and heads for Indiana where he wants to be a country club golf pro.

On he road, he meets a dangerously bizarre kleptomaniac named Michaela, who goes by the name of Mike. She’s a throwback to that classic movie character: the zany female kook. She’s played by another Brit, the usually reliable Emily Blunt, who is also not so good here. The two become traveling companions, a step toward assuaging their loneliness.

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