Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Artist Review

The Artist (2011)

The Oscars certainly feel nostalgic this year, don't they? I mean with films like Hugo, Midnight in Paris, and The Artist all heavy hitters (the first and last more so than the middle) for the Oscars, it seems pretty obvious. This is why The Artist truly feels one of a kind, although its story is nothing really new. It feels one of a kind because it came out this year, yet seeing it on the big screen made me feel like I was back in the twenties, back when silent films were the huge thing in Hollywood and before the dawn of the talkie. In the wrong hands, The Artist could have felt gimmicky, like they were making a silent movie just for the gimmick as opposed to a genuine throwback. However, it is in the hands of Michel Hazanavicius that this film is a true gem and a must-see for all film buffs. It has everything that a silent film should have. It has the comedy, it has the seriousness, and most importantly, it has a sense of joy and nostalgia even in its most melancholy moments. As of now, it is my personal pick for Best Picture and Best Actor, and I can bet that the filmmakers will be taking home many more awards come Oscar night. Out of all of its ten nominations, there is only one that I feel the film doesn't deserve, but we'll get to that later, onto the review.

The Artist centres around a silent film actor named George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). Valentin is the reigning star of the silent movie world and adored by both the studio and the public. One day, through a meet-cute where she drops her autograph book and accidentally bumps into him while getting it, Valentin meets a young woman named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) who is amongst the screaming fangirls and initially acts towards him like any young woman who has a crush on a movie star. She shows up to the studio where Valentin works to audition as an extra for one of their films, and through more circumstance, she and Valentin end up working on a picture together and he helps her get her start in the movies, which quickly escalates into superstardom.

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in the scene of their first meeting.

What I have described may seem like a plot for an old-fashioned screwball romantic comedy, but there is much more to this film than that. Like Singin' in the Rain dealt with the transition to talkies in musical format, The Artist deals with a similar topic, except it deals with it very differently. In Singin' in the Rain, Don Lockwood adapted very easily to talkies. In The Artist, George does not adapt so easily. In fact, it is his unwillingness to adapt that results in Peppy's star rising (although it rose with his guidance) and his star fading. This rising star/fading star conflict is what drives the movie and what makes us feel sympathy for our protagonist. As Peppy's life gets better, George's life gets phenomenally worse and for him it's just one humiliation after another, so much that the only companion he has left (besides Peppy, whom it takes him a little while to warm up to after an incident that I'd rather not spoil) is his utterly adorable dog.

Berenice Bejo and Malcolm McDowell in his brief cameo

Although it is through his stubbornness and insistence that sound is merely a fad that made those things happen, I can't help but feel sorry for him. There could be several reasons why he was so resistant towards the dawn of sound. It could be simply that he is afraid of change, or it could be insecurity about (maybe) not being able to speak English very well. If the last was true, it is a perfectly realistic insecurity and it gives the character a bit more humanity. However, Dujardin himself is such a phenomenally attractive man that he could pull it off. Seeing as Dujardin is French and French is his native language, this is one of the great examples of the actor's nationality influencing the character for the better. However, it's not like he was hiding a high shrill voice or a thick Brooklyn accent like Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain. Quite the opposite in fact, his voice is not unpleasant at all and being in the talkies would not damage his ability to play a romantic lead.

I don't want to spoil any more of the plot for you, but I will say that it borrows many plot and character elements from Singin' in the Rain, not enough to call it copying but enough for me to consider the two films companion pieces. First of all, George Valentin reminded me a lot of Don Lockwood, the king of silent films who has to deal with the transition to talkies. They are both noted for their talent, they are both pretty damn good dancers, both adored by the public, and both incredibly charming. Plus, Dujardin looks like he could be Gene Kelly's french son (or, judging by their ages, grandson). But whereas Lockwood adapts to the talkies, Valentin instead goes through what I presume to be any actor's worst fear (namely, becoming a forgotten has-been and losing the fame and admiration they once had). Peppy Miller also reminded me a lot of Kathy Selden, even in a direct scene where she is one in a group of showgirls that even wore costumes reminiscent to Debbie Reynolds' in that particular scene (those who have seen Singin' in the Rain know what I'm talking about). Plus, there's the whole showgirl becomes actress and rises up through the ranks of Hollywood that their characters have in common, though Selden rises up in a different way. They even make the film actress played by Missi Pyle look like Lina Lamont at the beginning, though she is not an antagonist and has no bearing on the plot at all. The last act of the film also resembles Singin' in the Rain in a way that I'm not going to spoil. However, this borrowing does not make me like the film any less. In fact, it makes me love it more because Singin' in the Rain happens to be my favourite film of all time.

Seriously. French grandson.

The story is not particularly original, and yet the film maintains some sense of uniqueness and originality in that it is the first silent film to come out in wide-ish circulation since Mel Brooks' Silent Movie in 1976, and it will likely be the first silent film to win Best Picture since the twenties. It also has an element of uniqueness in its nostalgia, how it's a throwback to the classic films of the twenties, and how films like this normally wouldn't be made in this day and age. This, however, brings me to the one Oscar nomination that I felt The Artist did not deserve. That nomination was for Original Screenplay. Seeing as this film was completely silent, title cards were used to express dialogue. However, they weren't used very often and although they did get some good deadpan one-liners in, the rest were rather unremarkable. Not bad, just unremarkable. The Academy could have easily given Diablo Cody a second nomination in The Artist's place, or any other original screenplay in general. I don't think it'll win though, and though I feel The Artist is undeserving for that one Oscar, the rest of the nine awards it was nominated for were wholly deserved.

First of all, the performances were phenomenal, so much that this film has my personal choice for Best Actor. I am sincerely hoping that Dujardin will win the Oscar come Oscar time and I have a feeling he will, as he has received a tad bit more praise than Clooney (who is the other popular choice for Best Actor) and though Clooney is a bigger name in the States, Dujardin's performance is generally looked upon to be the better one. Of course, I haven't seen The Descendants, so I can't be a fair judge, but I still hope that Dujardin wins the award because he truly deserves it. He embodied all of the emotions of his character, all the flaws, all the likability, and all the charm. Seriously, there is so much that he can convey with just a smile, which is so irresistable in itself that it can melt hearts, my own included. He's also a throwback in and of himself, which is one of the many things that makes this film unique. He's the old-fashioned leading man. He's the Errol Flynn, he's the Douglas Fairbanks, he's the Gene Kelly.  Plus, another reason why he will likely take the award over Clooney is that he had to convey the thoughts, feelings, and interactions of his character without words, entirely through his actions and his facial expressions, whereas Clooney had the advantage of being able to speak. In that, Dujardin's performance is the most substantial (both in the happy and sad moments of the film) male performance I have seen this year and one of the greatest things about this film, thus making him my personal pick for Best Actor.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie. You wouldn't be able to tell by the picture though.

However, his performance was not the only good performance in the film. Berenice Bejo also received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the film and though she doesn't have much chance of winning, she gave a great performance nonetheless. She had the flair, the pizzaz, and for lack of a better word, the pep (funny, because her character's name is Peppy) necessary for this performance, and she makes an excellent foil to George with her star rising and his star falling. She's a fundamentally good person, and though her rise to the top could have made her conceited and ungrateful, she does not forget Valentin and how he gave her her start, and she sticks by him the entire course of the movie when she could have abandoned him (not in a romantic sense, but in a friendly sense). She and Dujardin worked extremely well together and they were backed up by decent supporting performances, such as John Goodman as the cigar-chomping studio exec and James Cromwell as Clifton, Valentin's driver. Another humourous albeit brief turn is the one by Missi Pyle as Valentin's Lamont-ish costar. Needless to say, a slew of solid and delightful performances all around, one that will be taking home the Oscar.

But the slew of great performances is just one of the fantastic things about this movie. It also got nominated for a ton of Oscars below the line (by which I mean below the line of the screenplay awards in the technical section) and it deserved them, being an overall visually pleasing film. The film's cinematography is excellent, making good use of each shot and embracing the old-fashioned by filming in 4:3 as opposed to the standard widescreen, and the film on a whole is presented beautifully. I don't see it taking home the award (which will likely go to Janusz Kaminski for War Horse judging by the photographs I have seen), but the film was definitely well-shot. It has a chance at winning for editing, and there is a definite chance that it could win for art direction because the sets were superb, from Valentin's colossal mansion to Miller's mansion to the shops in the city. For now, it is still my favourite for Art Direction. The one award I am absolutely certain it will win is Best Original Score (Kim Novak controversy aside), because with no dialogue, this film is entirely dependent on the music because if there was no music, there would just be dead awkward silence. The music is simply delightful, probably the best score I have heard all year and though the film used little sound, the uses of sound were extremely clever. I won't spoil them for you, but they are extremely clever. Overall, The Artist is a visual delight as well as a delight in many other fashions.

Dujardin again and the film's second brightest (and certainly most adorable) star, Uggie the Dog

In short, The Artist is truly a phenomenal film and a gem, considering it came out in today's society. It is a must-see for all film buffs and though it may decrease in popularity when the Oscars are over, it will be remembered amongst the film buffs as a classic. The Artist is an utterly perfect film and has the honour of being my favourite film of 2011 and my personal pick for Best Picture and Best Actor amongst other things. It is a sheer delight through and through, featuring beautiful visuals and black-and-white cinematography, excellent performances through and through, and a refreshingly old-fashioned (though not entirely original) story. I recommend a viewing before Oscar time, especially if you want to formulate a good Oscar ballot and I recommend seeing it just for the experience, as there is nothing in this for a movie fan to dislike.

10/10- Must-See, Potential Classic


  1. Terrific review of one of 2011s best films

  2. Ah another review of this fantastic film! This must be the 15th review I have commented on. He really does share resemblance with Gene Kelly.

    Terrific review, you names my top 3 of last year in the first paragraph haha!

    1. Well, that's quite a coincidence. I haven't seen Hugo or Midnight in Paris, but The Artist is my favourite film from last year, followed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt II and either Tintin or The Muppets. Thanks for reading

  3. Hello, you have great blog. I can tell you're quite an expert when it comes to films. I've read some of your posts before and coincidentally I've just reviewed The Talented Mr. Ripley. Feel free to visit my blog:


    1. Thanks, and I will certainly repay you and go and visit your blog. I already looked at your first post with the Talented Mr Ripley review. Thanks for reading.

  4. Great review. It was a five-starrer for me too.

    PS - Following your blog.

  5. I just saw "The Artist" and LOVED it. Not surprisingly, I'm a movie buff, and "Singin' in the Rain" is my all-time favorite musical. I've seen it at least 25 times. I was struck by how alike they are, mainly in the obvious love they show for the silent era. The ending was great too. (I adore Astaire & Rogers, so no wonder...)

  6. BTW, did anyone else think of John Barrymore during the film? I thought of Barrymore in "Dinner at Eight," where he plays an aging actor on the down slide. He turns the gas on in his hotel room and arranges himself in a chair so his handsome profile is showing at its best. Dujardin's profile really reminded me of Barrymore's, and of course the story arc is similar.