Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius || Produced by: Thomas Langmann
Written by: Michel Hazanavicius || Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle
Music by: Ludovic Bource || Cinematography by: Guillaume Schiffman || Editing by: Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius || Country: France || Language: Silent (English intertitles)
Running Time: 100 minutes
The Artist, much like Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952), is a film that serves as a reminder of the world before “talkies,” as well as an opportunity to poke fun at the silent-age as a whole. Unlike Singin’ in the Rain, however, Michel Hazanavicius’ picture takes ample time to pay homage to those films, and is itself a (mostly) silent movie.
The Artist follows the careers of two different Hollywood Stars: George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film-actor nearing the end of his heyday, and the spry Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a young, up-and-coming actress who takes advantage of the revolution of sound-filmmaking to catapult herself to stardom. Throughout the story, Valentin’s and Miller’s lives criss-cross as the times of movies are a-changin’. Miller’s career skyrockets while Valentin’s spirals out of control. I won’t say much else beyond that, save for how their two stories coalesce at the climax is clever and satisfying.
Dujardin and Bejo are the two biggest selling points of the entire film. Both are likable enough in their own way, and much of their (silent, intertitled) dialogue is witty. However, the film’s biggest problem is that, up until the last fifteen minutes, neither of our two leads are involved in anything dramatic, intense, exciting, or remotely cinematic. This puts pressure on the plot to come up with exciting scenes that, for the most part, never materialize. Quite a few parts of the film are downright boring, in fact. The middle part of the story, where Bejo and Dujardin’s characters are rising and falling in the industry, respectively, is a dull experience that could’ve stood a re-edit or two. Top to bottom, The Artist is poorly paced and slow.
The film’s cinematography is serviceable, mostly relegating itself to a supporting role with static shots, limited mobility, and a reliance on editing and blocking to create humor. Peppy’s artistic embrace of George’s suit jacket is a nice touch, as are the clever insertions of actual sound(!) at a couple points in the movie. Of all The Artist’s qualities, its direction is one of the strongest. The are many well designed shots that bring out the personalities, however lightly drawn, of Dujardin and Bejo.
Here’s what made me raise an eyebrow at this movie’s immense hype: The Artist boasts a decent script featuring an OK story, fun characters, and some charming, old-fashioned music, while it’s direction packs a little more punch. That’s about all I can say in praise of the film. This film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor. I’m not hating on this film because it won awards, but like many Oscar-bait that have come before it, and the countless that will no doubt follow, I am baffled at the overwhelming critical appeal of this film.
With that said, the meat of what George Valentin and Peppy Miller go through in the narrative is interesting enough that the film works and we are invested in the story’s conclusion. I suppose it’s refreshing to see the two of them come to terms with one another in something other than a forced, last-minute romance; beyond that though, perhaps The Artist could’ve used a bit more story formula to bite onto to generate more excitement.
The Artist is altogether a decent if forgettable film that never forgets the humanity of its two leads, giving them enough time to grow and develop, and even manages to forgo what would at first glance seem like an obligatory, by-the-numbers romance. I wouldn’t exactly call The Artist a revolution in filmmaking, nor the best picture of 2011, but it is a fun and admirable nod to the classic movies of the silent era.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Artist is vintage Oscar-bait in every sense of the word, and unfortunately most of those connotations imply overrated stature. It boasts enough clever cinematography, fun performances, and sound editing to be charming, but its vanilla characters and predictable story left me wanting more.
— > ON THE FENCE: See it if you’re into modern spoofs of the silent era or are looking for a reliable picture for family-night.
? John Goodman, where have you been?