Colin Firth has portrayed so many posh, charming, and articulate men that you can see why he was drawn to playing the title character of Arthur Newman — a middle-class American drone in khakis and a geek’s pastel polo shirt. A failed professional golfer, our hero has just been fired from his floor-manager job at FedEx, and that’s when he decides to escape his life by faking his own death and taking on a new identity: Arthur Newman, generic nobody. The way Firth embodies the character, with a robot stare and a flat affect that expresses each thought as a kind of minimalist hologram of emotion, he’s playing a cipher who pretends to be a different cipher. How indie-ironic!
In his vintage Mercedes convertible (what good is a deadpan road comedy without a car that has antique 20th-century cred?), Arthur meets Mike, a cuddly kook played by Emily Blunt, who is lovable even though she seems to be competing in a Juliette Lewis impersonation contest. Mike has demons of her own: She comes from a family of schizophrenics, and she’s scared that she’s going to have a psychotic break. But it’s nothing that Arthur can’t help her through, just as she helps him get in touch with his lost humanity. I only wish that Arthur Newman were more interested in who that human being is and less invested in the posture of indifference that conceals him. B-