The Artist is an interesting homage to the silent film era that shows the format can still entertain, but it doesn’t play with the format as much as it could; especially when it seems that it wants to.
The picture takes place at the turn of the silent era into talkies and follows the path of Hollywood’s biggest star George Valentin. Valentin has made hit after hit, but he laughs at the idea of a talking picture and the studio seems happy to move on to fresher, younger faces. Enter Peppy Miller, a young wannabe starlet that gets her big break after accidentally bumping into Valentin in front of a premiere. Their two paths cross on their opposite directions of fame, but their unlikely connection keeps them closer than Valentin might imagine.
If some of the plot elements sound familiar then you are probably a big fan of Singin’ in the Rain, but outside the timeframe and the musical nature of The Artist’s finale, they take separate paths. The Artist looks at the lives that were crushed by the rise of the talkie and how the circumstances were neither fair, nor kind.
Valentin goes down a troubling spiral and it is sad to watch him fall, but it’s the people around him that bring us happiness and hope as the story moves forward. The film’s tone hopes to lift and please though it isn’t afraid to go to the dark side in its own way.
The technical merits of the film are plentiful and director Michel Hazanavicius and his team deserve plenty of accolades. The film looks right out of the era with the only things giving it away are the contemporary actors and the flashes of sound. Yes there is some sound in this “silent” picture, but when it pops up it is affective and intriguing. The film experiments with the B&W/silent aspects we should expect from Hazanavicius and these were the moments I found most intriguing. That’s why I mention my disappointment that we didn’t see more of this from Hazanavicius as I think it would have made things far more interesting. Outside the brief moments of intrigue the film is a fairly straight forward silent picture and I couldn’t connect with it above pleasant enjoyment.
The relationship between Valentin and his wife was probably the major weak point for me in the film and I found it hard to connect with him based on the way he treats their relationship; even if she seems terrible. It does allow for some good humor with Valentin’s dog, possibly the best actor in the picture, but this isn’t excuse enough to have these two characters treat each other so poorly.
The actors in the film do appropriately good work from top to bottom and it’s a lot of fun to see some familiar faces seemingly put in a time capsule. The film’s star is Frenchman Jean Dujardin and he is wonderfully charismatic; with a face that works perfectly for the format. All his facial features just pop with expression, Dujardin’s eyes able to convey sadness underneath that smile that is essential for the part. Matching him is Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller, who has just as powerful of a smile as her male counterpart. Bejo is adorable in the part and she sells us on romance between Valentin and Miller, even if the tinge of infidelity is in the air. The rest of the cast is filled out with a lot of familiar American faces, James Cromwell and John Goodman getting the meatiest parts. Goodman stars as the loud mouthed studio producer and his personality bursts through the screen. Cromwell on the other hand is just as affective while playing things far more subdued and subtle; acting as the heart of the picture to a certain extent.
In the end, The Artist is an enjoyable film, but not as good as I think it could have been. The film wants to homage while simultaneously experimenting with the genre, but seems to forget the later half way through the movie. The fine acting and charm of the film show that even a silent picture can entertain in this day and age, while simultaneously giving us a look into the sad life the era’s stars went through after they became obsolete overnight. Fans of cinema are sure to enjoy The Artist, I did.
The Artist is a B