If you follow me on Twitter or read my write up of the 2011 Oscar nominees, you may have gotten the wrong impression regarding my views on The Artist. I don’t like opening a review with acknowledgments of a film’s award campaign, but this needs to be addressed: The Artist will win the Oscar this year, and I’m severely disappointed by that. That does not, however, mean that I hate the film. I just don’t think it matches the quality of at least three other films on the list. Hugo (my favorite film of the year) makes the same allusions to the wonders of cinema that The Artist tries to make, and does it a heckuva lot better. But whatever, lets get into my actual thoughts on the film outside of the gold digging.
The Artist certainly works as an amazing gateway drug for folks who’ve never seen a silent film before. The film has a simple story with a lovable leading lady, comically gifted leading man, and an adorable dog to boot. It moves at a brisk pace, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear accounts of people increasing their views of TCM and adding a bunch of classics to their Netflix queues. If you’re unfamiliar with silent cinema, you will most likely love The Artist. But if you’ve studied the medium, the mileage may vary.
I hope this goes without saying, but I’ve studied the medium. I’ve seen plenty of silent films, and to be honest once we get past the gimmick of a silent film made in 2011 there isn’t a whole lot of interest going on in The Artist, thematically or narratively. The film details a silent film star’s fall from popularity in the wake of the talkies, juxtaposing his downward spiral with the meteoric rise of a beautiful actress the star once took a picture with on a serendipitous night.
And really, that’s it. Just by my description most of you could probably guess how the two become entwined and the end result of their relationship. It’s a familiar story well told with the silent gimmick grafted on. It isn’t that the film is bad, but rather that the flick doesn’t etch itself onto your memory or anything. The Artist‘s greatest sin is that it’s the equivalent of cotton candy: wonderful and pleasant for a moment and then gone.
But in the moment you will really love the experience. The film boasts a pair of wonderfully charismatic leads: Jean Dujardin is electric as George Valentin, the star that must come to terms with his own pride. He holds his own against Bérénice Bejo in a star-making performance as the beautiful and charming Peppy Miller. Bejo throws herself into the role with total abandon, and if I have a cinematic crush for 2011 it is definitely her.
Adding to the mix is Uggie, a cute terrier that nearly runs away with the whole show. Jokes have been made about the Weinstein Company launching a campaign for Uggie to get a Best Supporting Actor nod, and while that is ridiculous I can see why the jokes were made. Uggie is the most memorable thing The Artist has got going for it.
I can’t endorse The Artist as amazing cinema, but I can endorse it as a cool little experience that may awaken dormant desire to check out older films. If you’re familiar with the period, you may be better off skipping this. If you aren’t, I recommend checking it out and doing some follow up research when you’ve gotten back from the theater.
The Artist is in theaters now.