I have mixed feelings about The Artist. It’s a good movie, definitely worth watching, but I’m not sure if it lives up to the hype. In trying to make a silent movie with today’s technology, what does it add? Sure, it looks great, the actors control the screen, and some moments are shockingly melodramatic or heartwarmingly funny, but how much is actually new, and how much is nostalgia?
George Valentin (French movie star Jean Dujardin, who is seriously awesome- check out the OSS 117 spy parody movies) is a silent film star forced to deal with the sudden rise in popularity of talking pictures. Dujardin, who pulls off charm and wit with ease, is at the center of the movie, and seeing him act in recreated adventure movies and romantic comedies makes you realize the details and challenges of silent acting. Bérénice Bejo as rising starlet Peppy Miller lights up the screen in all of her scenes (man, her eyes are amazing).
The specter of knowing it was a modern movie floated in my head as I watched. As the hardheaded movie producer, John Goodman stuck out to me just because I know who he is already (and not hearing his voice made me fill it in automatically). On the other hand, James Cromwell was the perfect fit for loyal chauffeur Clifton.
While the excellent cinematography and direction by Michel Havanavicius goes a long way towards convincing you that this is a real silent movie, the plot feels cobbled together from existing movies instead of being an original homage. For example, one scene of Valentin tearing apart his room is extremely strong, but it feels incredibly similar to Orson Welles destroying his in Citizen Kane.
There’s a strange feeling where the movie makes you think about dramatic subtleties (i.e. plot elements not being forced at you), but in other cases, the melodramatic turns are so in-your-face that it takes you out of the moment. For example, when Valentin is down on his luck, he walks by a movie marquee playing a movie called (I may remember it wrong) “Lonely Star.” And that gag happens a couple times throughout the movie.
However, a few scenes jumped out at me because of how creative they were. I don’t want to ruin the surprises, but one early dream sequence challenges everything you’ve seen in the movie to that point, and it adds an extra layer of tension to everything that follows.
Compared to real black and white silent films like Charlie Chaplin’s movies, there’s no way this one compares, and as far as movies about filmmaking go, I like Singing in the Rain much more. But there’s enough heart and entertainment present in Havanavicius’ attempt to recapture the 1920’s that The Artist is worth a watch.