There is no Arthur Newman—that’s a false identity claimed by Wallace Avery (Colin Firth), a Florida golf burnout fleeing the wreckage of his failed marriage and tanked dreams. (Wallace buys a dead man’s passport from Blade Runner’s own M. Emmet Walsh, selling him a “real human being” in a shadowy room.) But you’ll soon wish the film were about someone a bit more exciting, and in fact, that person does turn up in the luminous form of Emily Blunt as Mike—or maybe it’s Charlotte—another life-swapper who recognizes a kindred spirit in the Dockers-clad mystery man. Pinned uncomfortably to each other’s secrets, they hit the road in a Mercedes convertible, where they develop a game of mutual pretending, breaking into homes and playacting like a real couple.
None of this is remotely believable: not Firth’s hard-on-the-r American accent, nor the shoddy way in which he fakes his death or successfully lures such a gorgeous free spirit to his motel room’s double twin. But the actors give it their all, and when the screenplay gets around to exploring the desperation that might fuel a total do-over, Arthur Newman wanders into oases of deep feeling. (Blunt’s bedroom seduction in a stolen wedding dress, her words weighted with sadness, is too devastating to parse here.) Uncourageously, the plot gets a case of cold feet, looping back to half-written family members left in the dust. But when it’s being wild, the drama has nearly enough character to pass for distinct.
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