Artist, The

Rating:

Silence is Golden

Main Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

I would like to thank the Academy…for nominating The Artist for Best Picture in 2012. Without that push I doubt I would ever have seen it. The hype, the black and white, the silent movie thing, none of it was appealing. Also, the trailer made me barf. But it did get nominated and I did see it…and I’m very glad that I did.

The Artist is the story of silent film star Georges Valentin (Jean Dujardin). It’s the roaring 20s and he’s Hollywood’s golden boy, making hit after hit and living the life of movie royalty. But times are changing and talkies are taking over the movie world. By 1929 George is out, his money gone with the stock market crash, his career over with the demise of the silent film, his marriage finally imploded. He watches sadly as young ingénue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a girl he all but “discovered” becomes the Next Big Thing. He likes Peppy, he’s happy for her, but his life is in the dumps. Can he pull out of it or is he doomed to live as a sorry, drunken has-been?

There’s nothing special about this story. We’ve seen the big star fall before. But we’ve never seen it like this. The Artist is filmed in black and white and is essentially a silent film with just a few touches of magical sound that pop up like delightful, unexpected presents. Just like it was back in the 20s our actors have to tell most of their story without words – be it funny or tragic or romantic. Dujardin and Bejo are brilliant – for actors living in a time when dialogue is king, they are remarkably adept at slipping into the conventions of an earlier era. Their sparkling performances light up the screen.

The leads are backed by a stellar cast of Hollywood veterans who are clearly having a blast hamming it up for their silent roles. John Goodman, in particular, is terrific as a studio executive. Watching his giant grin appear or seeing him scold an underling shows us just how much body language matters. James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell and Penelope Ann Miller are also along for the ride and each brings something special to even the smallest role. There’s also Uggie the dog, who figured out long ago that you don’t need to talk to steal a scene.

The most pleasant surprise in the entire film, for me, is the score. It drove me crazy when I saw the trailer – I thought it would be horribly grating as the only sound to be had in an entire film. I was so, so wrong. The lilting music of Ludovic Bource is expressive, evocative of both time and place, appropriately melodramatic and modern enough to keep the movie from feeling “old”. It’s a beautifully put together score – not the type of thing I would want to own, but absolutely charming in the context of the film.

I understand why The Artist has become the award show darling of the year. It’s fresh and different and stylish in a year of boring and sluggish and underwhelming. It’s fun and entertaining and executed with great finesse by the cast and director Michel Hazanavicius. The story is lightweight and nothing particularly special and the pacing lags a touch in the middle, but the exuberant performances of the leads, the fabulous score and the combination of silent film conventions with modern technology are all wonderful. 4 ½ stars out of 5 for The Artist and a hearty recommendation for anyone looking to simply be entertained. If you can see it on a big screen, all the better.

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