- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Weinstein Co.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
elebrating a film like “The Artist” for its originality may seem a tad contradictory – after all, silent movies have been around longer than any other form of cinema – but when compared to today's crop of films, it certainly feels fitting. The big winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and a potential frontrunner at the Academy Awards, "The Artist" plays like a loving homage to an era of filmmaking that many people have forgotten or never knew. But while director Michael Hazanavicius’ black-and-white (mostly) silent movie is a fun blast from the past that will remind audiences what made those early films such a great joy to watch, it's almost too dependent on the very style that defines it.
The year is 1927 and silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is on top of the world. While at the premiere of his latest film, he meets cute with an aspiring young actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), only to bump into her again the next day on the set of his new movie. Although there’s an instant attraction between the pair (brilliantly conveyed in one the film's most memorable scenes), George is stuck in a loveless marriage and unable to act on his feelings. Plus, he has much bigger things to worry about with the imminent arrival of talking pictures, and as his star begins to fade, Peppy's starts to rise as the new face (and voice) of movies. But George isn't willing to go down without a fight and sinks his fortune into producing an epic silent film to prove to the studio head (John Goodman) that talkies are only a fad.
For as purely entertaining as “The Artist” can be at times, however, it doesn't do nearly enough to make you fall in love with the film so much as the idea of it. Although the movie’s first 30 minutes are an absolute delight thanks to Jean Dujardin's charming screen presence, the abrupt change in tone from light-hearted comedy to somber melodrama is disappointing. Not only is Dujardin a better comic actor, but George's character arc is lacking in any real depth. Formulaic plot aside, his fall from grace and subsequent reaction feels exaggerated, especially for someone who doesn't even try to adapt to the changing times. (There's a passing comment about no one wanting to hear his voice, but when you don't even know what he sounds like, you're forced to just take his word for it.) That wouldn't be a problem if the director played by the rules of his own film, but by introducing sound in the finale, he undercuts the power of the silence.
Even with some of these minor complaints, "The Artist" still works remarkably well thanks to its whimsical use of the various stylistic devices (they're never a crutch, but rather a way of creating fun moments that simply wouldn't work with sound), as well as solid performances from French stars Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. Though the movie often favors its gimmick over the story, it doesn't change the fact that Hazanavicius has created something really special that, like Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," demands to be seen by cinephiles with a sense of history. And if nothing else, the film serves as a great reminder that while not every off-the-wall idea is guaranteed to be a success quite like "The Artist," it's the willingness to take those risks that making movies is all about.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Sony’s Blu-ray release of "The Artist" comes loaded with a solid collection of bonus material, although it’s somewhat disappointing that director Michel Hazanavicius didn’t take the time to record an audio commentary. In addition to “The Making of an American Romance” (which features interviews from several cast and crew about working on the movie), the single-disc effort includes a 45-minute Q&A with the filmmakers and actors, a short location featurette, and a series of all-too-brief featurettes ("The Artisans Behind 'The Artist'") on production design, cinematography, costumes and score composition.