By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Firth holds forth, and Blunt blunders beyond bluntness in Arthur Newman.

It’s essentially a two-hander of a road trip flick, small of scale and low of key, starring Colin Firth and Emily Blunt as two lonely and restless, damaged and desperate souls, he from Orlando and she from North Carolina.

Firth stars as unhappy divorced dad Wallace Avery, who fakes his own death after essentially purchasing a new identity, and reinvents himself as a golf pro named Arthur Newman (separate the surname syllables for on-the-nose symbolism).

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

Then he takes to the road, where he encounters Michaela “Mike” Fitzgerald, a seeming kleptomaniac played by Blunt, who, when he happens upon her, has stolen a car, overdosed on morphine-based cough syrup, and passed out by a motel pool.

She obviously needs to be taken to an emergency room, and he promptly obliges.

It turns out that — a bit too coincidentally for the script’s own good — she, too, is traveling under a false name.

Later, romance blossoms and they head for Terre Haute, Indiana, and -– freed from inhibition with the new personas they’re wearing and excited by the risk involved — they choose several couples to mimic, sneak into their homes when they’re out, and make love in their beds wearing their clothes.

And as they proceed and while they’re mutually pretending, each reveals to the other just what went on in their lives that drove them to abandon one identity and try on another.

The two British performers — Firth an Oscar winner as best actor for The King’s Speech after being nominated in the same category the year before for A Single Man, Blunt impressing in starring roles in The Adjustment Bureau, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, and The Five-Year Engagement in short order — affect convincing American accents and create characters with severe emotional baggage who are appealing in spite of themselves.

Debuting director Dante Ariola, working from a contrived but arresting script written many years ago by Becky Johnston (who wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Prince of Tides), offers an enjoyable inner and outer journey for two about the choice between facing one’s problems and running away, even though it would be an absolute stretch to describe what occurs in this tall tale as in any way believable.

That’s because, truth be told, this is one of those acting exercises where you never fully forget that you’re watching actors act rather than real people behave.

But you don’t mind because the actors involved -– role players playing role players — are so effortlessly watchable and so capable of appropriately and interestingly modulating their performances.

All of which makes this film’s most-likely-to-be-entertained target audience fans of either or both of the leads.

So we’ll identify 2½ stars out of 4 for this playfully melancholy comedy-drama, Arthur Newman.  Firth and Blunt make it more than a stunt.
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