It feels like every year when The Weinsteins are pushing, shoving, and clambering for Oscars, everyone responds, “Really? That movie? It was good, but… really?” This year, that will not be the case. If a viewer doesn’t get a goofy smile planted on their face during Michel Hazanavicius‘ The Artist, then something is probably wrong with them. Their brains must not be ticking right, they could very well be part monster, or perhaps their hearts are missing up their cynical *expletives*.
Why would that be? Because The Artist oozes with undeniable charm.
Hazanavicius’ black and white, meta silent film doesn’t work purely on an homage level, though. This isn’t just a nerd’s love letter to cinema, but an actual filmmaker’s love story which never comes off solely as an experiment. All the tip of that hats are clear in The Artist, which are all nice and clever, but it’s the core love story and the realization of this lost world of filmmaking that provides the wonders.
Set in the late 1920s’/early 1930s’ Hollywood, the film follows the fall, artistic integrity, hopeless romance, and the resurrection of silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). At first, George is the guy everyone loves, worships, and wants to be in business with. He’s beloved, and for all the right reasons. He’s more than simply a good face for a movie poster, but an artist… or at least he tries to be.
What’s keeping him back is the future, which George responds with, “That’s the future? You can have it.” The horrible talkies are coming in and taking over Hollywood, and George’s pride won’t allow it. He won’t lower himself to talking on film, since that’s a nightmare to him, literally.
What isn’t a nightmare to him is one of the most kindest and elegant screen presences to grace the screen in a long time, Peppy Miller (played by a stunning, funny, and heart-pounding Bérénice Bejo). Peppy bumps into George after the premiere of his silly looking sci-fi adventure film, and their charms immediately collide in an explosive fashion.
These two are clearly meant for each other, but as expected in a classic Hollywood film, forces are keeping the two romantics apart. George’s failed marriage, refusing to give in to the future of filmmaking, and his stubborn pride pushes him away from being with Peppy. While George is on the fall, Peppy is on the rise. Even as she ascends towards fame, Peppy doesn’t forget George. After the actor loses everything — his wife, cash, and artistry — he forgets the one thing he still does have: Peppy’s love.
As is the case with the film itself, both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo say so much without saying anything. By the end, you’ll be smiling along with them. There’s an authenticity to not only the attention to detail with some of the wonderful sets, but also the relationships and what it means to be an artist in an evolving industry.
The Upside: Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo blowup the screen with wit, drama, and facial power; makes for a strong commentary and comedy on artistic integrity; it’s irresistibly entertaining; every joke is gold.
The Downside: A pacing issue around the second and third act.
On The Side: The Artist reminds me a lot of The Good German, which is a film I like, but only works as an experiment. This film, on the other hand, is a far more fulfilling old school effort.