The Artist (2011) Short Review (PG-13)
Box office does not indicate whether a film is ‘good’ or not, but neither does a near unanimous concensus by critics. Million Dollar Baby sucked. English Patient was a near psychosis inducing snoozefest. And Blade Runner was ALWAYS a great film, whether critics have come around to it or not. The Artist has a novel idea at its core. It’s about a silent film star (Jean Dujardin) that struggles when sound is introduced to the film industry. This story has been done before. The thing that sets The Artist apart is that it is a silent film that is shot in black and white. A novel approach for a contemporary film.
Director Michel Hazanavicius goes full on with many silent film traits (overacting, overcranked film speeds during action sequences and an annoyingly bouncy orchestral score that piddles along no matter what’s onscreen).
The story is not earth shatteringly original involving the aforementioned silent film star struggling, while a young fan (Bérénice Bejo) of his becoming a star almost entirely by chance and a dream. And there’s a cute dog that acts with the intelligence that only movie animals can possess. There are other nice touches and details in the film if you pay attention, but the film never rises above being anything more than a novelty. The film has the level of story sophistication that films have from the silent era. That’s not a criticism, it’s just the film’s approach. I generally don’t care for that in modern films; kitsch or camp or whatever is usually is an excuse for a poorly written story, but in ‘The Artist’ it’s appropriate.
A number of ‘character actors’ turn up in supporting roles (and cameos). John Goodman plays a producer, providing a minor chuckle or two. James Cromwell plays a chauffeur, maybe offering up my biggest (minor) gripe about the story (how does he go a year without being paid, while his boss…? Anyway). The lovely and talented Penelope Ann Miller plays the wife of the silent film star. I thought it was interesting that the lead female character was named ‘Peppy Miller’. Had this been made 20 years ago, surely actress Miller would have been cast in this role, having a ‘look’ that seems appropriate for the early 20th century. It was also a surprise to see veteran actor Ed Lauter, mostly known for television (and usually a s a villain or antagonist), turn up.
I watch silent films (much more than your average movie fan) and I don’t think there was enough of what makes a lot of those old films great (and even iconic in many cases). Bejo had one scene with a coat rack that did seem like something Lloyd, Keaton or Chaplin would have come up with. There’s one decent dance number towards the end. The film lacks action, relying heavily on the novelty of the setup to try to produce laughs. And there weren’t many. Dujardin is good in this and Bejo is quirkily cute; I’m not saying this is a bad film. It’s not. Just not the film that the critics are saying that it is. They use words like delightful, charming, magical… My word: ‘novelty’ (but still worth seeing if you like films that aren’t the typical Hollywood mainstream offerings).