Review in a Hurry: It seems counter-intuitive that in this day and age, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the season would be a silent movie. Yet Michel Hazanavicius‘ tale of a fictional silent-movie star dealing with the prospect of his own obsolescence, done in a style most thought was itself obsolete, is a real charmer. It’s not especially deep or profound—just (very) good old-fashioned fun.
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The Bigger Picture: Critics who would dismiss The Artist as a mere novelty flick are both right and wrong. It is something of a gimmick, but it’s a mistake to write off the value of novelty in a tired cinematic year full of retreads. (Even some of this year’s best movies, like Winnie the Pooh and The Muppets, are essentially do-overs.)
Director Hazanavicius previously made a name for himself paying homage to ’60s spy movies with the OSS 117 films, little-seen outside of art-houses stateside. In refocusing his tribute lens farther back in time, he hit pay dirt. OSS star Jean Dujardin is George Valentin, a star of silents with charm and ego to spare—he allows his pet pooch to share the credit for his films, but no-one else. While greeting his fans, he inadvertently gives part of the spotlight to a female fan named Peppy Miller (Hazanavicius’ real-life baby-mama Berenice Bejo), who becomes the talk of the trades, and through further quirks of fate ends up appearing opposite George in a movie.
George disdains the new-fangled notion of sound, which is his fatal flaw, career-wise—his fortunes take a turn for the worse as Peppy’s star rises. There’s not much more to the story than that, but it’s all in the execution. And in the many adorable tricks that little dog can do.
The Artist isn’t exactly a replica of a film from the era depicted—for one thing, nobody back then would have made a silent movie about how the era of the silent movie is over. For another, sound is used judiciously (and deliciously) in a couple of key moments. And finally, this is edited more for the modern attention span. That’s not to say it’s hyper MTV-style, just that it’s not full of long-takes and stage-based blocking to quite the same extent as actual ’20s flicks.
It remains to be seen whether this director has more in him than parody-tributes to other eras, but even if he does prove to be a one-trick pony, let’s be honest and admit that it’s a very good trick. Dujardin may be the real find here, if he can prove as adaptable to the modern era as he has been with Hazanavicius’ recreations.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Story-wise, there isn’t a lot of “there.” Though admittedly it’s hard to get too complicated with a script that relies on inter-titles to convey dialogue.
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