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Friday, January 20, 2012

Movie Review: THE ARTIST


"If that's the future, you can have it!"
-- George Valentin

The Artist is a 2011 comedy directed by Michel Hazanavicius that pays homage to the days when "talkies" started to replace the silent films of yesteryear. Silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has enjoyed rampant success as one of the biggest movie stars of the 1920s, but as the film studios begin to transition towards talking pictures, he merely sees it as a passing fad and holds steadfast to his silent fame. Around the same time, he meets a young up-and-comer named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), to whom he has an instant attraction. The studio finally decides to scrap all silent films, making Peppy one of their biggest stars in the new talkies; in response, George decides to make his own silent film, which proves to be a dud, sending his career spiraling out of control. As the years start to pass by, George falls further and further into obscurity, where he can only watch as Peppy replaces him as the talk of the town.

Considering this movie is currently receiving all the buzz around Hollywood, I figured I should give it a view at some point or another. It just recently won three of its six nominations at the Golden Globes and can now be considered one of the front-runners for the Academy Award for Best Picture, for which it will most likely earn a nomination. With all of its accolades streaming in at high speed, it was only a matter of time until I almost had to give this one a go. And boy am I glad I did.

I've always been a bit of a sucker for movies about movies. The meta-theatrical aspect to such films has always been quite a draw, and even if they're not well-constructed, I find myself loving them regardless. Take 2011's Hugo, for example. It delves into the very start of the motion picture industry, telling a story of Georges Méliès, who many consider to be the grandfather of film. I fell in love with that movie almost instantly. And now, with The Artist, I have to say that I've been a tad bit won over. We've seen movies about actors and their transition from silent films to talking pictures - here's looking at you, Singin' in the Rain - and The Artist manages to hit that chord and fire on all cylinders.

Where this film distances itself from other films like it is in its screenplay. Whereas other films that deal with this subject generally give the audience something to listen to, The Artist chooses to remain virtually silent for nearly the film's entire duration. We're essentially seeing and feeling the transition through George Valentin's eyes and ears, and because he so adamantly wants to remain in the past and live in his silent world, that's exactly what the audience must do as well. We see the signs of the changing tide, but like the silent films of old, we mostly have to deduce the words and sounds that would be associated with them. I think this was the perfect aesthetic choice for this particular film as it helped accentuate the struggle that the George Valentin character has throughout the story.

At the same time, we're getting a fantastic story to complement that aesthetic choice. We see a man who has reached the peak of his fame. Everyone loves and adores him, and the audiences flock to the theaters to see his each and every film. As the talkies start to make their presence known, however, we get an in-depth look at the pain and suffering that George Valentin feels as he is gradually replaced by Hollywood's new starlet. We want to root for the man, but at the same time, we want to hit him upside the head and tell him to let go of his pride. The film manages to come full circle and offers a fantastic finale that is sure to bring a smile to your face.

I also can't say enough about the acting in the film. Dujardin is simply a marvel throughout the film, offering a near-perfect silent film role. Back in the days of silent films, actors needed to be able to express their actions and emotions in a rather over-the-top manner so that the audience was able to keep up with the character. Without the aid of verbal dialogue, it would have been nearly impossible for an audience to remain engaged with a subdued performance, so the showy actors were always the ones to attain fame. Dujardin successfully achieves this over-the-top persona, and he's able to maintain it throughout the film's entirety, regardless of his character's current mood. We're always certain of what he's thinking and feeling simply by the way Dujardin carries himself on-screen. It's a fabulous performance, to be sure.

Luckily, the rest of the cast fills out nicely as well. Bérénice Bejo is great as the film's key female role and Dujardin's love interest. Also be on the lookout for some rather big-name stars in smaller roles, including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Ken Davitian and a cameo from Malcolm McDowell. And I couldn't possibly forget Uggie, the dog who's by George Valentin's side for nearly the entire film. Although I can't classify it as "acting," his presence needs to be noted both for his comedic and caring aspects.

I also thought that the film's musical score, which was composed by Ludovic Bource, helped to set the mood perfectly. It hearkens back to the orchestral compositions of the 1920s silent films, and I found it to be key in crafting and holding the tone of the film.

Overall, I honestly cannot give enough praise to The Artist. It's one of those films that only comes around every once in a while, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for quite some time. It's sure to be an Oscar contender come that time next month, and I have to say that it will probably be vying for the top spot on my own "Best of 2011" awards contenders. If you haven't had a chance to see it just yet, buy into the hype, do yourself a favor and make your way to the closest movie theater. I'm almost positive that you won't be disappointed.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

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