The Artist Review
By Bret Dorman
Movies geared for adults usually involve sex either graphic or implied, rough themes like alcoholism, drugs, and/or rape. They also may include graphic violence and torture.
I enjoy watching these movies, especially the ones about sexy ladies killing drug runners (Columbiana?), but it’s a shame that if adults want fun they usually have to resort to ‘kids’ movies. The new Muppets movie is fun for the whole family but obviously aimed at kids. Wall-E is a great example of top notch film making under the disguise of a kids cartoon. Why? Because kids love toys and Puppets/Robots make great toys. These products sell. No adult is running out to buy a The Artist action Figure. Pull his draw string and… nothing happens.
The Story: Silent Film Super Star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) goes through the highs and lows of show business as the beautiful and charismatic newcomer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) embraces her new found fame and… gasp, sound in movies! Also, there is a very well trained and super duper adorable dog.
This year we are seeing a lot of nostalgia based movies. Midnight in Paris, Super 8, The re-release of The Lion King, and the aforementioned The Muppets. So it makes sense that this year we would get an homage to black and white silent films.
But what writer/director Michel Hazanavicius does is not just homage the films long since forgotten, he makes one. One could see how it would be frustrating and challenging to make a legit silent film with a modern pace and self-awareness, yet by embracing the natural charm of his actors and compelling visuals, Hazanavicius pulls off a magical movie.
All the actors brighten up the screen and really hit their rhythms. Dujardin as Valentin has a lot to carry on his shoulders. He not only has to be funny and charming right off the bat, he has to go down a pretty dark road as Talkies take over Hollywood and he is left out to dry. You feel his frustration as he struggles to recapture his audience that once showered him with praise.
Bejo as Peppy Miller is mesmerizing. She looks up to the stars even as her own stardom takes off. She is innocent to her fame and all around good natured, something most people in Hollywood aren’t used to and mis-interpret. She has a scene in which she creates chemistry with a coat on a rack. Most Rom-Com dream teams wish they had even half the sparks she creates alone on screen. She is the kind of girl you meet at a party and fall in love with. The fact that she is naive to her ability to make men instantly fall in love with her and never abuses this power is part of the charm.
The Artist uses its auditory handicap to its advantage. Elaborate and creative dance scenes (one involving a creative below the waist dance off), fun visual gags, and silly spoofs on older silent film genres all in the first half hour elevate the movie to a pure fun and innocent level. It’s also savvy enough to include some striking visuals, one in particular in which Miller flirts with Valentin in a busy Hollywood studio office building. As she says goodbuy, we get a wide shot of the office stair case and everyone on screen naturally exits and Valentin is left alone, feeling like nothing else in the world matters. Then, naturally people start to flood the screen again and the busy office continues as it was before. No visual trickery or overly complicated set ups. Just a great sense of direction, timing, and choreography of walking extras.
The nice things don’t last for too long though. The movie takes a pretty serious dark turn towards obsession. As Valentin obsesses over his fame and Miller obsesses over Valentin, both characters dance the line of self-destruction. Luckily, as our main characters are in a bit of trouble, we have some nice cameos, supporting cast, and a loyal pet to make the ride for the audience just as enjoyable as its energetic start. The dog is an obvious scene stealer as he remains ever loyal and always adorable.
In Conclusion, I’m not going to advocate a big resurgence of silent films. It’s silly to think that The Artist is a good movie simply because it’s styled like an older film. The Artist is a rare movie that knows what its trying to do and knocks it out of the park. The Artist is good not because of what it is trying to be, but because of what it is.