Despite being dotted with moments of cheerfulness, Dante Ariola’s debut about a failed golf-pro and his melancholy travelling companion falls short on the first hole. One can only assume its monotony is the cause of the film’s delayed UK release and rebranding from original title Arthur Newman.
Arthur & Mike follows the story of Wallis Avery (Firth) whose dreary job, bland love life and failing relationship with his son push him to escape from his identity. Acquiring a forged ID under the name of Arthur Newman, Firth’s character fakes his own death and sets out on the road to become someone new. Staying in a fleabag motel his story collides with that of a hazardously intoxicated Mike, short for Michaela (Blunt), who he rushes to hospital.
Having had her stomach pumped of a toxic amount of cough syrup, Mike reluctantly accepts Arthur’s offer of a ride. They cruise around the insipid landscapes of Mid-West America, staying in a string of dubious hotels and progressing towards Arthur’s promised job as a golf instructor at a resort in Terre Haute, Indiana. Along their travels it becomes apparent that both are, conveniently, travelling under different names. Whilst Arthur is running from his life as Wallis Avery, Mike has stolen the ID of her paranoid-schizophrenic twin sister who she has left at a mental hospital in her home town of Durham.
During their travels Mike spots a newly-wed elderly couple and follows them to their home. Upon seeing the house being vacated, Arthur and Mike break in and share a moment of disconcerting passion whilst role-playing in the bride’s wedding dress. This sets off a string of breaking and entering to fornicate and play-act in stranger’s clothes. Meanwhile Wallis’ son Kevin (Hedges) is becoming increasing friendly with his father’s girlfriend Mina (Anne Heche). Kevin frequently visits their home where Mina is caught by surprise semi-clothed. A strange, highly uncomfortable sexual tension bubbles somewhere in the subplot through Kevin’s questions, such as: “did you and my Dad have a lot of sex in this apartment?”
At the risk of spoiling whether Arthur’s dreams of becoming a star-golfer materialise, I will say that the film fizzles off with spectacular dreariness. Firth’s usual casting as the stiff gentlemanly type falls flat, as the plot doesn’t carry enough charm to juxtapose his rigidity, while Blunt’s character Mike is so emotionally fragile that even when she does something titillating, one can’t get past their irritation over her bouts of sulking.
However, the actors carry their American accents flawlessly and Blunt can be commended for the versatility needed to transmit Mike’s constant mood swings. Blunt and Firth seem to have a natural chemistry and there are delightful fleeting seconds where something is genuinely funny in its quirky irony. But then, unfortunately, the story has the tendency to relapse into melancholy.
Overall, Arthur & Mike offers a plethora of unlikeable characters who discourage the emotional attachment needed to actually care about the journey. The tinkling soundtrack and grey colour-tint lend further blandness to the already dull expository dialogue. There are hints of potential in the script by Oscar nominee Becky Johnston, which breathes life into the tired narrative of the road-trip of self-discovery. But ultimately the tone is too heavy to exploit the moments of effervescent comedy.