Friday, February 3, 2012

The Artist

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rating: PG-13

There are some movies I just dread sitting through. I’ll admit I felt this way about “The Artist,” a black and white, silent film. This is 2012, people - all movies should have color and sound! However, the fact that it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical, and with the name “Weinstein” attached to it, I knew it had to be good. Five minutes into the film, I understood all the hype. Jean Dujardin shines as silent film star George Valentin, who makes an unlikely friend in talking film star Peppy Miller (an energetic Berenice Bejo, who lives up to her character’s name!) After the studio head (John Goodman) announces that silent films will soon be the way of the past, Valentin refuses to lower himself to star in new “talking films.” He becomes desolate and forgotten, but with the help of Peppy and an adorable canine, he ultimately regains his title as show business king.

Being that this was my first silent film, I found it difficult to look away from the screen, thinking I might miss something. I had to solely focus on the visual element of the film, because there is no dialogue to keep the audience engaged. That being said, the lively score provided much entertainment and lingered in my head all afternoon. There were moments of text on-screen, though these were staggered throughout the film. The audience is forced to rely on the actors’ animated facial expressions to reveal exactly what is going on.

The year is 1927, and Peppy is a struggling dancer who gets a big break on one of Valentin’s silent motion pictures. The two connect instantly during a dance number, drawing some suspicion from his wife (Penelope Ann Miller.) Though the two never kiss, it’s clear there is an attraction. Valentin gives Peppy advice, “saying” she needs to stand out from other young wannabe starlets, and draws a beauty mark on her. This becomes her trademark, and she goes on to star in picture after picture. Before you can say “silent film,” she becomes the hottest thing in Hollywood (a pretty unrealistic portrayal of an actor’s rise to fame!)

Years later, Peppy (and her voice) are at the top of the talking film industry, while Valentin’s silent films bomb at the box office.  His recurring nightmares reveal noises to the audience for the first time: we hear a glass being set on a table, his dog barking and women laughing. It seemed his fifteen minutes of fame were up. Valentin became a nobody, and his only companion in the world was his Jack Russell Terrier, the most well-trained and loveable animal to grace the big screen since Shadow in “Homeward Bound.” (There was even a petition to get this dog, Uggie, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination! It was shot down.)

The climax is a bit intense, and without ruining too much for you, Valentin is finally able to make it back to the top. We hear three spoken lines at the end of the film, which I thought was an interesting choice: it paralleled what was happening in the industry, that talking films had become the norm.

“The Artist” is a breath of fresh air, and one of the most feel-good movies I’ve ever seen. Have a little caffeine and go to your neighborhood indie film theater. The lack of dialogue was somewhat difficult to get used to, but there is no doubt you will be entertained.

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