Directed by: Michael Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penlope Ann Miller
Review: Movies have always been viewed as an art form. Just like any other form of artistic expression, movies have had a power of us. They have had an ability to evoke emotion like no other art form. No matter the iteration, movies have always held a place in our hearts. This is what ‘The Artist’ is about.
As a narrative, ‘The Artist’ follows our protagonist George (Dujardin) and his journey from silent film star to obscurity. Starting out in 1927 George is the biggest thing going. As a silent film star there are few who can rival his level of fame. He is the biggest star the studio has to offer. His world is also about to change.
The longtime director of George’s films has shown him the “future” of movies: what will come to be known as “talkies.” George laughs this off as a passing fad at the most. There is no way that the movie going public would turn its back on silent films and their stars (like George). George is so confident that he is such a big star and the public loves him so much that there is no way these new type of movies will catch on.
George turns out to be more wrong than he possibly could have imagined. A young woman that he helped establish, Peppy Miller (Bejo), has used “talkies” to make herself a star. She has aligned herself with the studio as one of their “young stars.” Part of the “young stars” movement carries with it an “out with the old” mentality. This means George is on his way out. By 1929 and the stock market crash, his career is nearly over. George has no money to his name, his wife has left him, and his film career is all but nonexistent.
This is where the movie gets the majority of its meat. Dissecting George’s relationship with his fame and Peppy is where most of the emotionality comes from. ‘The Artist’ took a bold step and decided to make itself a silent film. What the movie has in its favor is that it is a silent made as if it’s 2011, and not made as if it were 1927. It even pokes fun at itself by bringing to light the fact that characters would be “mugging for the camera” in old silent films. There is none of that here. It is a commandment to Dujardin’s acting skills that he is able to emote with such ability without using any words. It’s truly a testament to all actors’ talent that they can get their point across without using any words.
More so than the choice of dialogue or no dialogue, what makes the movie better is the use of the themes involved. George fancies himself an artist. What he doesn’t realize is that his hubris has gotten in the way of his art. The movie going public hasn’t turned on George, they’ve turned on his art form. Silent films were great because they provided the sense of awe that only films can provide as an art form. When that got lost, with actors not really being in character and just “mugging for the camera,” the public wanted the next big thing. That was the “talkies.”
George’s relationship that he’s developed with Peppy is tested by all of this. He has fallen in love with her (as has all of America), yet he is not sure how to handle their situation. While she provides for him a feeling that has been missing from his life, she also represents his failure. More than that, she represents the fact that his failure was the product of his own doing.
George was too arrogant to realize that he had lost his artform. He was too egotistical to understand that people weren’t responding to him anymore because he was no longer providing people with what they crave. Further than that, he was too ignorant to accept that his life got to that point through his own fault.
It’s this dynamic that makes the film undeniably watchable. While the majority of the cache the film has is related to its novelty, there is a quality film in here. Some of it doesn’t quite resonate the best due to the music choices that are made through the film. This is an inherent limitation of the genre that makes it an issue when you’re trying to sympathize with the characters. At times it can be hard to be drawn into a scene when the music doesn’t fit the mood the actors are portraying. It’s a seemingly small issue but is magnified with film of this type.
All in all, this is a movie that is worth your time, if not for the novelty alone.