February 05, 2012

The Artist

The Artist (2011) is about a Hollywood star's rise during the silent era of film and consequently his fallout during the transition to talkies. Jean Dujardin plays the actor, George Valentin (the last name recalls the real-life silent screen legend Rudolph Valentino). George refuses to believe that talkies are anything but a fad, and is eventually upstaged by a charming young woman whose first taste of celebrity occurs when she bumps into George at a press conference and they indulge in a spontaneous photo shoot. Her face is splashed across the newspapers with her lips firmly pressed against George's face, and pretty soon she's doing bit parts in pictures, then rising in status and eventually becoming Hollywood's latest girl-next-door.

What seemed at first like it was merely a gimmick to make the film stand out during Oscar season--this is a silent movie, you know--actually made The Artist endearing. George is followed around by his adorable dog Jack, a terrier, and their companionship is absolutely vital to this movie's likableness. Jack becomes a character all his own, something that rarely works out in movies.

I was puzzled by the use of Bernard Herrmann's famous score from Vertigo near the end of the movie. Thematically, it worked (that may be Herrmann's best score), but it didn't exactly make sense to use it. After all, The Artist takes place from about 1928 to 1932, and Vertigo was released in 1958. Couldn't they have composed something themselves? It's such a recognizable piece that its anachronism is pretty obvious to anyone who knows a little about movies.

The humor is what really resonates in The Artist, and the dramatic scenes are moving without being heavy. There's always an undercurrent of humor that in effect relieves those dramatic scenes of their maudlin tendencies. Instead of feeling corny or weepy, The Artist feels like fun--it's richly entertaining. But don't be fooled into thinking this is somehow original. It's really just Singin' in the Rain with a little Citizen Kane thrown in for good measure.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius. With Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller, the up-and-coming actress who unintentionally steals George's thunder. She's gorgeous, unassuming, and smart; also with John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, and Malcolm McDowell.

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