With Oscar Fever running rampant, I thought I might try to see a few more of the movies up for nomination this year prior to the Academy Awards. After buying my buddy Brad dinner a few weeks ago (yes, the same Brad that reviewed My Week With Marilyn), a movie man-date on his coin was mandated. After getting home late from a long, shitty day at work, 100 minutes of escapism sounded just about perfect last night.
Neither of us had seen The Artist and we had both heard good things. Here are some of the reviews that I heard: “It’s very good.” ”It was pretty good.” ”I thought it was really, really good.” ”It’s a silent movie. But, it’s good.” With such ‘good’ endorsements, I figured it had to at least be a ‘should see.’
The Artist, from director Michel Hazanavicius, covers the intertwining stories of two people who act (straight-up gender neutral): George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). Valentin is on the top of the world in Hollywood in the 1920′s silent era with his striking smile and adorable Jack Russell, but is pridefully reluctant to evolve into “the talkies.” The younger Peppy Miller is enamored by Valentin as a youngster and works her way up from a pretty dancing extra to an A-list talkie starlet. As always, Hollywood represents both The Day of the Locust‘s ‘Hell on Earth’ and the opportune Garden of Eden.
Above: Dujardin mopes as George Valentin while revisiting one of his old ‘classics.’
The story recalls Sunset Boulevard as it covers a similar period in Hollywood and plays off of a lot of the same themes, but the love story without the emotional vampire in Norma Desmond and noir-ish sense of impending doom make The Artist a lot easier to swallow. The gloom is there, but there’s always a jesting placard or some canine slapstick to lighten the mood. I’m not usually one to go puppy-crazy, but that dog has talent!
The acting, particularly in the two lead roles (Dujardin and Bejo as seen above), is superb. John Goodman and James Cromwell are successful with their caricatured roles of The Director and The Butler respectively. I am a little confused as to why they billed Malcolm McDowell as though he would be in the film for more than 45 seconds (he wasn’t…bummer). I am more than a little confused as to why they cast Bill Fagerbakke (most famous for his role as Dauber in TV’s Coach) at all. Only kidding. He was a very competent Policeman Tuxedo and he made me realize how terrible I am with lip-reading.
A silent film is a brave thing to do in this day and age as one almost certainly alienates the same lazy, un-dubbed foreign film audience: “Ugh. I don’t wanna read!” I found the film’s silence forcing me to focus even more on the acting, the script, the imagery (the scene with Peppy putting her arm in Valentin’s topcoat was adorable), the editing and, last but most, the soundtrack. Hats off to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Elmer Bernstein for reviving famed Bernard Herrman’s music for the score; it follows the film beautifully.
The question on your mind if you’ve made it this far is probably “Is The Artist the movie of the year?” My sorry answer is “I cannot speak intelligently on the subject because I only dragged my ass to the theater four times this year.” Go see the movie. Barring poor vision or un-medicated ADHD, you will like this film.