Go Ask "Arthur": What Happened to the Lovable Hollywood Drunk?

By Kirwan Gray 04/11/11

These days, it’s easier for film directors to glorify drugs than alcohol. Everybody loves stoner movies, while alcohol abuse in today’s films is simply “not lovable.”

Arthur then and now.
Photo via videogum

Times have changed, and with them, the depiction of alcoholism in popular entertainment has changed dramatically as well. The happy-go-lucky lush has been in and out of favor over the years: In the 1960s movie Days of Wine and Roses, director Blake Edwards took a bleak, black-and-white view of alcoholism, introducing viewers to the concept of A.A. after decades of films where the town drunk was a punchline, not a social problem. In the 1980s, we got to laugh at drunks again, when Dudley Moore’s Arthur captivated audiences. But in the remake of the fim that opened on Friday, the sober actor Russell Brand plays the movie's principal character as a "pathetic, bratty little boy who refuses to grow up," writes Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. Why? Casting director Melissa Braun thinks she knows what has caused the change: The "modern-day view of what an alcoholic is--not acceptable behavior, not lovable," Braun told the Hollywood Reporter. The gentlemanly, bemused butler played by John Gielgud in the 1981 version has been replaced in the remake by a frosty Helen Mirren, who, as THR notes, “prods sharply where the butler steered with the gentlest of touches.” People are “not expected to be tolerant of that kind of behavior anymore,” Braun claims. “Suddenly there’s a different level of hyperawareness of addiction and drugs and alcohol.” With one big difference: "It's easier to glorify drug use than alcohol," she adds.  Everybody loves stoner movies,  while alcohol abuse in today’s films is simply “not lovable.” Coincidentally, the new stoner movie Your Highness also opened on Friday. Its producers have very, uh, high hopes for the box-office.

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