Paying tribute to silent movies, this charming motion picture boasts an unpretentious plot about an iconic actor of the silent era who refuses to adapt to “the talkies.” It also focuses on the man’s relationship with a spirited young woman whose star rises as his falls -- kind of like Singin’ in the Rain meets A Star Is Born. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, French actors, fit their parts perfectly here. And, in my opinion, The Artist boasts the best ending of the year. It’s definitely a must-see, especially for fans of tap dancing (like me)!
Here’s hoping mainstream audiences don’t stay away from a wonderful movie like this because it lacks audio conversations. The involving story, cinematic artistry and compelling performances we look for in high-quality filmmaking are much in evidence here – as are humor, pathos, drama plus a clever canine to capture your heart. A jazzy background score enhances the action during appropriate sequences, while different types of music give the film an emotional boost in others. Also, the dialogue cards help viewers go back in time to an earlier era of filmmaking. The Artist offers a unique cinematic experience in an age when extremely loud sound effects insult our eardrums while watching so many current movies. Silent films in days of yore seemed to target the funny bone and the heart, but contemporary movies appear more interested in shock and awe. That may be one of the reasons I appreciate The Artist so much.
Nothing about this film interferes with Jean Dujardin’s ability to express his feelings as George Valentin, the title character. It’s ironic that Dujardin was once told he couldn’t be a movie star because his face is “too expressive.” (I’m reminded of Norma Desmond saying “We had faces then!” in Sunset Boulevard.)
We meet George at the peak of his success in the 1920s. He loves to ham it up for fans and press at the end of premieres, lives in luxury with his wife (Penelope Ann Miller), and dotes on his cute dog Uggy, who acts also. Peppy Miller (Bejo) is one of George’s admirers – and they first meet accidentally after one of his premiers. Although the two only exchange provocative glances, Peppy develops feelings for George right away. Even when George is suffering the depths of despair over his fall from stardom as well as his divorce and dire financial straits, Peppy keeps tabs on him. During this same period, she becomes a popular star in movie musicals. However, she never forgets George. Yes, the ending is predictable, but watching how these two finally get together is pure cinematic pleasure.
Bejo can’t miss winning everyone over with her delightful portrayal of the energetic Peppy Miller. The camera loves this beautiful actress, who -- like Dujardin -- has a very expressive face. Her big eyes register all kinds of emotions, and her tap dancing matches Ruby Keeler’s enthusiastic hoofing in those early movie musicals like 42nd Street.
With his unusual movie masterpiece, director/screenwriter Michel Hazanavicius proves he is an “artist” himself.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated "PG-13" for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.)
Review also posted at ReelTalk Movie Reviews.