Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
France, 2011, Silent, 100 minutes
“I’m the one people come to see. They never needed to hear me.”‘
– George Valentin
I saw the Artist a couple of weeks ago, and since it may very well win the Oscar for Best Picture next week, I thought I would share my opinions on it. First of all, I enjoyed the movie. As I walked out of the theater I could only think that film, at as artform, is primarily about images. With every new innovation, we continue to build this edifice on top of that foundation, whether those innovations are in sound, deep focus, stop motion animation, jump cuts, CGI, or what have you. Sometimes it’s refreshing to visit the basement from time to time.
The Artist introduces us to silent film superstar George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who along with his little dog, is on top of the world. He exudes the pure joy of a man who loves his work and everything about it. His wife (Penelope Ann Miller) doesn’t seem to care for him much, but George is so smitten with himself that he barely notices. This begins to change when a fan named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) cuts into George’s spotlight for a moment. While George is still riding high for a time, the advent of sound makes silent starts like George obsolete in the studio’s eyes (think Douglas Fairbanks).
The minute that “The Jazz Singer” (1927) came out, the world shifted beneath the feet of Hollywood. Hollywood began raiding Broadway for the best song and dance men and women they could find, and hundreds of actors who looked nice but didn’t have attractive voices were thrown by the wayside. Only a select few, most notably Charlie Chaplin, were successful enough to resist the tide of dialogue. This subject is of course central to the plot of “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952).
The weakness of The Artist isn’t the acting, music, set design or comedy, all of which are superb. It’s a feeling I recently described with the following analogy. The “Sim” series of games, which include “Sim City,” “The Sims,” “Sim Earth,” and a few others, are sometimes referred to as “software toys” rather than true games. It is fun to build your own city, social community, or whatever, but there is no way to “win” these games at the end – no payoff.
Like the Sim games, The Artist is a lot of fun, but in the end there’s no payoff. As a silent comedy, it’s funny, but it doesn’t measure up to City Lights (1931) or The General (1926). It serves its subject matter well, but not as well as Singin’ in the Rain or Sunset Boulevard (1950).
That’s not to say that it isn’t worth your time and money – quite the opposite. Its witty, self referential comedy is a refreshing change of pace from the gross-out, frat-tastic humor so often pushed upon us by Hollywood. Generally, it’s a fun way to spend an evening. Just don’t expect it to be anything more than it is, a funny, well made film that doesn’t have anything new to say.
You may like the Artist if: You’re in the mood for a fun night out at the movies and you want to see a comedy that is well acted, well produced, and funny without being juvenile.
You may not like the Artist if: You are looking for a film that connects to its subject matter in new way or you are looking for a film that is groundbreaking in its genre.
(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe