The director of “Arthur Newman,” Dante Ariola, an award-winning commercials director making his feature debut, says his film has met with mixed reactions on the festival circuit leading up to its opening this week.
I can see why.
Things aren’t spelled out for an audience, gaps appear in back stories and the film leaves it up to you to supply some of the “missing” bits.
The film boasts a superb cast, two British actors playing Americans with aplomb — Oscar-winning Colin Firth and no doubt future Oscar-winner Emily Blunt. Not to mention Anne Heche is a smaller but equally remarkable role that helps to fill in a few of those missing bits.
Nothing, of course, is really missing. The skillful Ariola and his writer, Becky Johnston (“Prince of Tides”) — interestingly enough rewriting a screenplay she wrote two decades ago — mean for some vagueness to creep into their story. After all, it is a dramatic comedy about identity — and the attempt to flee one’s own imperfect life.
It’s also a road movie if you like genre labels.
What happens is that a guy living in Florida named Wallace Avery (Firth) feels he has failed at life in about every way possible — a pro golfer, who can’t sink a put in the clutch; a washout as a husband and a father; and a middle-aged man in a dead-end relationship.
First night out, he picks up or acquires, even this is a bit vague, a beautiful but highly troubled younger woman. She’s a thief among other things and is named Michaela “Mike” Fitzgerald (Blunt), only that’s not her real name either.
Seems that’s her sister’s name — the sister being locked up in a loony bin — but whatever her name she has OD’ed on cough syrup after a botched attempt to steal somebody’s car. Her actual name is Charlotte in case you care.
Mike or Charlotte or call her what you will decides to go to Terre Haute with Wallace or Arthur or … well, you get the picture.
En route, they invent an unusual game. If they see a happy couple in a restaurant or other public venue, they find a way to sneak into their homes when the couple is absent, dress in their clothes, adapted the residents’ identities and then hop into bed.
A less astute writer and director would make the whole movie about this interesting kink. But here it’s played for another variation on the couples’ burning desire to escape themselves.
Meanwhile an equally interesting subplot develops. Wallace’s girlfriend (Anne Heche) and his son (Sterling Beaumon) meet accidentally in his abandoned digs. In sorting through his effects and notes (left perhaps for them to find?), the two begin to puzzle out the riddle of the missing and presumed dead man.
This too reveals conflicting and contradictory info about our man Arthur, sorry, Wallace.
So you see what I mean? A story with unreliable characters and narration throws off audiences used to films from Universal or Paramount that spell everything out for them to the point of distraction. Or boredom.
What’s a little amazing here is that this commercial/video director isn’t cutting to a new image every 5.4 seconds in the visual overload that is now almost common in mainstream films.
Ariola is genuinely into character, willing to slow things down to make sure you get enough glimpses into the lives of these two people so you may glean a sense of what ails these damaged souls.
He even leaves things up in the air at the end. Which is the only intelligent way to end such a film.
Bravo. Looking forward to the next film from Dante Ariola.
Opens: April 26, 2013 (Cinedigm)
Production company: Vertebra Films
Cast: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche, Sterling Beaumon, M. Emmet Walsh, David Andrews, Kristin Lehman
Director: Dante Ariola
Screenwriter: Becky Johnston
Producers: Alisa Tager, Becky Johnston, Mac Cappuccino, Brian Oliver
Executive producers: Helen Cappuccino, Andrew Cappuccino, Lisa Bruce, Natalie G. Hill, James Holt, Eric Greenfeld
Director of photography: Eduard Grau
Production designer: Christopher Glass
Music: Nick Urata
Costume designer: Nancy Steiner
Editor: Olivier Bugge Coutte
No rating, 100 minutes