Review of The Artist starring Jean Dujardin.
The sweet and sentimental showbiz melodrama behind The Artist, French writer/director Michel Hazanavicius' silent era Hollywood tale, unfolds in black and white with title cards instead of dialogue and a boxy 1.33 aspect ratio.
Hazanavicius matches the technique of early Hollywood but his knack for good-natured humor and warm sentimentality sets The Artist apart as a likely audience favorite.
Leading the way in laughs and tearful drama is star Jean Dujardin, best known for the French sitcom Un gars, une fille and his leading role as a bumbling French spy in Hazanavicius’ popular period comedies OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio. Thanks to Dujardin’s expressive performance, Hazanavicius makes The Artist more than a worthy homage to silent cinema. The Artist is an enjoyable silent movie in its own right and a rare movie pleasure.
It's 1927 Hollywood and silent star George Valentin (Dujardin) sees his career quickly dissolve as talkies take hold. Meanwhile, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), the pretty young extra Valentin helped after their accidental meeting outside the premiere of his newest movie, sees her career take off with the advent of sound as the girl-next- door type who stars in numerous comedies and romances.
As Miller’s career skyrockets, Valentin’s tumbles and it’s unclear whether the two will cross paths again.
Dujardin pays homage to Douglas Fairbanks; playing Valentin as a grand matinee star that duels, fights his foes, wins his battles and leaps through the air to victory.
The name Valentin name may be a riff on the matinee idol Rudolph Valentino but his story mirrors the career of another movie star ruined by "sound," John Gilbert.
Dujardin (Little White Lies) is radiant throughout the movie and acts in the silent film tradition.
He has gusto and energy galore. He also uses his complete body in the performance as he projects and gestures with the larger-than-life, melodramatic theatrics of a silent star.
As the charismayic Peppy Miller, Bejo follows in the footsteps of '20s flapper Colleen Moore and channels the comic talents of Marion Davies (for those silent movie buffs).
Bejo looks great with her bobbed hair and winning smile as she plays a variation of the working girl instead of the exotic, otherworldly actresses like Gloria Swanson or Pola Negri. She and Dujardin make a great couple and true to its feel-good formula, The Artist gives moviegoers what they’re hoping to see by its closing credits.
James Cromwell provides strong support as Valentin’s loyal butler and John Goodman is a perfect fit as Valentin’s studio boss.
In addition to capturing the look of a Hollywood silent movie, Hazanavicius also captures how the twenties were a movie-dominated decade and the silent stars were larger than life thanks to endless coverage in magazines like Picture-Play and Photoplay and Motion Picture.
The Artist is more than a historical flashback to silent cinema. It’s a warm-hearted drama that reminds us what Hollywood and its silent stars were all about.
Now, some 90 years later, many silent stars remain forgotten, misunderstood and underappreciated. The Artist shines a spotlight on Hollywood's early days and reminds us just how enjoyable silent movies can be.
It’s a fun rediscovery. It’s also funny how it takes a French filmmaker and his leading man to remind us of the glory of Hollywood's silent era.
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, John Goodman
Screenwriter: Michel Hazanavicius
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Producers: La Petit Reine, Studio 37, France 3 Running Time: 100 min.
Release Date: November 23, 2011