THE ARTIST (PG)
Released: February 2, 2012
Review: Shannon Harvey
Score: 9.5 / 10
We’ve been treated to the top three Oscar front-runners in the past three weeks, with The Descendants, Hugo and now the silent black-and-white drama The Artist. It’s the favourite for best picture, actor and director, with 10 nominations overall.
And what a delightful, breezy, jazzy, breath of fresh air it is!
It’s quite similar in theme to Hugo, with both being about the early days of cinema and the silent era. Yet while Hugo is a Hollywood film set in Paris, The Artist is a French film set in Hollywood, starting in 1927 at the birth of the talkies.
It’s from director Michel Hazanavcius and stars Jean Dujardin as silent movie star George Valentin, the George Clooney of the day. This dashing bachelor is the toast of Hollywood – until he literally bumps into dancer and singer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo).
Peppy is part of the new breed of young starlets sweeping Hollywood, and when George’s studio boss (John Goodman) decides to cease making silent films and only make talkies, it’s out with old George and in with new Peppy!
George puts all his money into writing, directing and starring in his own new silent film. It opens on the day of the stock market crash and sends him headlong into bankruptcy and depression.
Meanwhile, Peppy’s career skyrockets, but she still holds a candle for this handsome matinee has-been.
There’s lots of themes to consider in this charming hark back to the silent era. There’s the birth of the talkies and its impact on silent era stars. There’s the fleeting nature of celebrity, and how one can rise while the other falls. And there’s the clever way The Artist uses the silent black and white form to analyse the silent era itself.
And don’t be put off by the silence or the black and white. The Artist is very easy to watch and enjoy, with a jaunty soundtrack and pitch-perfect acting that ensures you’re never lost as to what’s going on. The dialogue is relayed with old fashioned speech cards, and it’s often easy to read the character’s lips.
Indeed, The Artist is something we haven’t seen at the movies in a long, long time, and it’s quite original. Perhaps Singing in the Rain, A Star is Born or All About Eve are the closest comparisons.
There’s a fabulous early scene where Peppy is dancing behind a scrim backdrop and we only see her legs. George copies the dance from the other side, and the two go back and forth – a real Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire moment.
Another beautiful moment comes when Peppy discovers George’s dressing room, and puts her arm into his tuxedo arm and wraps it around her, imagining he’s embracing her….until the real George walks in!
It’s a bit convenient for George’s film to come out the day of the stock market crash, bankrupting him and sending him on a downward spiral. And the last minute surprise doesn’t quite work.
But this is a funny, heartfelt, moving and romantic classic, and reminds you of everything you go to the movies for. It’s playful tone belies its serious themes, using the antiquated medium to deftly critique the business of show business (and how things haven’t changed much).
Jean Dujardin is a revelation as the silent era superstar – as handsome and dashing as Clooney and dancing like Fred Astaire. And Berenice Bejo is gorgeous as Peppy, the plucky upstart who dances like Ginger Rogers.
And I mustn’t forget Uggie, George’s faithful Jack Russell that literally saves him from death.
Will The Artist win the Oscar? It’s a true underdog – a silent, black and white foreign film. But Hollywood loves an underdog, especially one about Hollywood itself!