Pros: Great cast, good writing and directing, in glorious black and white
Cons: None, though some won’t want to give it a fair shake
The Artist is a film I’ve been intrigued to see since I first heard about it. Unfortunately, like so many great films that don’t appeal to the masses, the nearest theater that is playing the film is over an hour away, so I waited a bit to actually give it a viewing. When my wife and I decided to take a brief mini-vacation and happened to be staying near a theater playing the film, I jumped on the opportunity to see the movie that I’d heard so much about.
The film stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a star of the silent era who is on top of the world in 1927. He has everything he could want: a loving wife (played by Penelope Ann Miller), adoring fans, and even a lovable dog who works in all his films. By chance outside of a movie premiere, he runs into a star struck fan named Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo), who he instantly has a connection with. Through coincidence or fate, she finds her way into a role in his next film, where the two continue to spark. Still, George being a married man, he moves on with his life, while Peppy’s journey is only beginning. Her parts start small, but slowly become larger and larger until she becomes a star in her own right.
Valentin’s path starts a downward trend in 1929 with the advent of the talking picture. He wants no part of it, saying “If that is the future, you can have it”, not realizing the disaster that is about to befall his career. The studio brushes him aside, instead focusing on fresh and new stars, such as Peppy Miller. Valentin’s troubles are compounded by the stock market crash of 29, leaving him bankrupt and alone. What follows is one star’s fall and another’s rise, all the while how their lives intertwine in strange and wonderful ways, culminating in a wonderful (albeit predictable) fashion.
It’s hard not to love this film if you give it a chance, but it is the convincing people to give it a chance that is the hard part. My wife heard that it was a silent film in black and white, so she immediately decided she was seeing another film, meaning I had to watch this movie by myself. I’m sure that is the reaction many moviegoers will have going in, which will rob them of a truly remarkable movie-going experience. To be cliché, they just don’t make them like this anymore.
The story itself isn’t particularly original, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Roger Ebert said that Singin’ in the Rain probably was an inspiration for The Artist; he isn’t wrong. The entire second half of the film, I thought that Valentin is what Don Lockwood would have turned into if Cosmo and Kathy hadn’t helped him figure out how to fix the “The Dueling Cavalier” for a few years. I don’t think it takes away from the film one bit, but I do find it interesting.
The acting in the film is fantastic, as Dujardin and Bejo both seem like they would have been legitimate silent screen stars. Dujardin, in particular, has the face and movements required to get every emotion across the screen without seeming like he is hamming it up or overacting. A certain amount of expressiveness is needed in any silent film to get the point across, and not everyone is able to get that point across subtlety. John Goodman, who is fine in his performance, has moments where he seems to literally be coming through the screen, which is great for comic effect, but when compared to the dramatic elegance of Dujardin’s performance at times it just makes him look silly. It really is a star making performance for the two leads.
Overall, I think the film is a modern day gem that should do nicely during the award season. The score is amazing, the writing and directing are great, and the acting from the two leads is top notch. While it might not appear to appeal to everyone from first glance, I think anyone who gives it a shot will enjoy both humor and the drama of it. Easily one of the best films of the year. 4 out of 4 stars