The Artist is an easy film to like. It’s funny, charming, endearing and simple. And it just won most of the good Oscars. What the Academy likes is rarely what I like, but this is an exception.
It’s easy for a film to be swallowed up by its own hype and awards-praise and this can often result in disappointed viewings from those expecting one of the greatest films of all time. The Artist is not one of the greatest films of all time, but it is a fun and light-hearted tribute to an era of cinema we don’t talk about much (I crack myself up). It’s a fine accomplishment and deserves all the attention its getting, whether or not it was the best film of 2011.
The plot is scarce and can be summed up in two sentences. Academy Award Winner Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a massive silent movie star whose popularity begins to wane as the talkies take off. Berenice Bejo plays Peppy Miller, who is experiencing the opposite.
First off, yes, Dujardin is great. He looks and acts like a star of the time with hilarious bravado. His cheesy smile and slapstick antics are ridiculously entertaining. I could have watched him filming that dancing scene a million times, for his superb eyebrow movements alone. What’s impressive is how little you notice his gradual transition from boyish overacting to tortured nuance. It should feel like two different roles, but Dujardin rounds it all off nicely, first getting you to like him, then getting you to pity him (even when he doesn’t deserve it).
Berenico Bejo deserves similar credit for marrying the same sort of goofy style with the expert looks of admiration and pained guilt that her face carries throughout. And her little happy dance needs to become the next big night club move.
Director Michel Hazanavicius (can’t pronounce that) absolutely nails the tone, putting the limitations of his subject medium to expert use, and using occassional rule-breaking to great-effect. He clearly knows what he’s doing and doesn’t let the focus stay solely on his actors, frequently using sets and camera angles as perfect framing devices for the character’s diverging paths.
The Artist has one major flaw and it lies in one of its greatest strengths: its simplicity. There simply isn’t enough story here to warrant a feature length film. It feels like a short that got stretched too thin. The middle of the film could have benefited from some extra plotting, another character or even a subplot. Instead, we’re left with repetitive scenes of alcohol abuse and self-pitying that could have been distilled a little bit (distilled… Alcohol? Eh? Eh? No?). Some scenes run too long and the middle feels decidely flabby.
Despite this, it’s hard not to be charmed and endeared to everything The Artist does right,which is plenty. And I haven’t even mentioned the dog yet.