REVIEW: The Artist

9 01 2012

There’s more than just silence that makes “The Artist” a magical throwback to a bygone era.  Writer and director Michel Hazanavicius uses an old style to capture an old-fashioned mood of narrative simplicity and purity, and he executes it with such grace and elegance that it becomes absolutely irresistible.  However much ice your heart may have accumulated over the year, this movie is bound to – at least in a few moments if not in its entirety – melt some layers and make you feel moved like your grandparents did before the talkies came around.

If the sheer bliss of being transported back to a simpler era like Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris” (minus the reality check at the end) doesn’t get you, then the sheer charm of the movie is bound to make you weak at the knees.  Between the wonderfully emotional story, the jaunty score by Ludovic Bource, and the magnetic and charismatic performances of the lead actors, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the undeniable heart of the movie will register with you on some deep, emotional level at least in fleeting moments.  For me, the “Waltz for Peppy” sequence is one of the most beautiful, touching scenes committed to film in recent memory, ranking in the pantheon with the postcards scene from “Benjamin Button” and the wedding sequence from “Up in the Air.”

You can’t refute the passionate love behind crafting “The Artist;” however, you may be able to resist falling passionately in love with it.  The movie’s simplicity and breeziness, while a main component in making sure the film’s silent strategy works, also leaves a bit of longing for something more.  While there are moments where Hazanavicius exhibits a Charlie Kaufman-esque flair for the meta, overall, the movie lacks a great spark of originality in its plot.  At times, it settles for clever homages to movies like “Singing in the Rain” and loving winks to classics like “Vertigo” where it could have forged its own trail.

But the idea to make a silent film in the age of big, booming blockbusters is original enough to work and please me!  Had the tale been as interesting as the technology, “The Artist” would be an A+, best of all time movie.  But I’m perfectly fine just saying that for a little over 90 minutes, I embarked on a nifty, fun journey that was pure-hearted cinematic joy.  To dwell in a time where a man and a woman couldn’t kiss on screen (see the Hays Code), so innocuous and innocent, was blissfully transporting.

It wouldn’t be nearly such a bon voyage – a good journey, as translated literally in the native French of “The Artist” – without the wildly funny and endearing characters created by Dujardin and Bejo.  As star-crossed movie stars, Dujardin’s George Valentin is on his way down in the talkie era, refusing to embrace the technology because of pride and stubbornness, while Bejo’s Peppy Miller is on her way up thanks to a can-do spirit and her willingness to adapt.  She’s a ball of spunk and charisma who will have your heart just as soon as you look at her, while he’s a well-meaning showboat whose prickly ego often gets in the way of his good intentions.  Both are totally convincing silent-era figures, just as Dujardin and Bejo feel like naturals in the pre-1927 acting style.  They find the balance between naturalism and sensationalism, giving us enough entertainment to stay riveted but never going so over the top that the ridiculousness makes us doubt the film’s veracity.

There’s also the matter of George’s scene-stealing canine companion, played by Uggie, who gives the single greatest animal performance on screen ever.  I know I said that about Cosmo in “Beginners” six months ago, but little did I know that “The Artist” was going to come around and make a dog the most lovable character of the year, registering more awwws than I thought were possible.  How Hazanavicius coached such a great performance out of Uggie, I have no idea, just like I have no idea how he made a full-throttle silent movie work so seamlessly.  No matter how he managed it, I’m so glad he did.  A- / 

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17 01 2012
Duke & The Movies :: With A Little Help From My Friends

[…] eloquently reviews The Artist – a likely best picture front runner for the […]

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