Colin Firth has the uncanny ability to play both king and commoner with the same compassion, dignity and reverence. Whether it was his lovesick efforts in "Love Actually" or his frustration in "A King's Speech," Firth showed it's heart that makes for a great performer.
His heart-filled work is plentiful in "Arthur Newman."
Firth plays Wallace Avery, a failure as a husband, father, professional golfer and FedEx employee. He decides his life is awful, so he fakes his death and starts over as Arthur Newman.
This transformation might have worked, except he meets a person equally as damaged in Mike (Emily Blunt). As if drawn together by the failings in their lives, the pair take to the road on a journey of discovery.
It would have been easy to dismiss or dislike Avery for the cowardliness and selfishness of his actions. In his haste to sever ties to his past, he cuts off the woman (Anne Heche) who loves him and any hope of reconciliation with the son (Sterling Beaumon) he's ignored since birth.
But Firth's expressive face is a constant reminder that this is a man who doesn't deny there are consequences for his actions. He simply chooses to ignore them. Even Firth's posture offers little clues about a man who never found the discipline needed to be a good provider.
Firth's performance alone would have been enough to hail this film by director Dante Ariola. Toss in an equally powerful performance by Blunt and the film turns to a masterwork of acting.
Blunt plays a woman on a path of self-destruction because of fears about her mental health. She never counted on someone like Newman / Avery caring more about her future than she does.
Both are good enough to smooth over the rough spots in Becky Johnston's script. The second act begins to drift toward the absurd as the pair begin to break into homes of couples just to mimic their lives. A point is being made about how there could be merit in picking a pre-packaged life rather than trying to live your own, but this philosophical mountain can't be climbed in such a tight film.
Johnston also never strays too far from her emotional path, so the movie's trek ends up a little too familiar. With lesser actors, that would have been a roadblock.
Heche is very good as the forgotten girlfriend, but her relationship with the abandoned son plays as a weak second story.
Overall, "Arthur Newman" is an emotional road trip that ends as interesting as it starts. The outstanding performances by Firth and Blunt make this emotional quest well worth the ride.
• Rated: R for sexual content, drug use, brief nudity.
• Director: Dante Ariola.
• Cast: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche.
• Running time: 93 minutes.