The Artist Reviews
It's 1927 and George Valentin, Jean Dujardin, is a major silent film star who is married to the uptight Doris, Penelope Ann Miller, when he meets rising ingï¿ 1/2 (C)nue Peppy Miller, Berenice Bejo, who he helps to become a star. She becomes a major actress as sound films are popularized while Valentin's career is left in the dust as nobody is willing to see his films anymore. She does the classic A Star Is Born routine as she attempts to rescue the washed up man whose fame she has now succeeded but he vehemently refuses to change despite her kindness. In the end they make a sound film together, a musical what's more and we get to find out that actually they're French! How sophisticated.
I have no issue with films borrowing from or echoing other iconic films from a different era but I expect them to put their own spin on these tropes or comment on them in some way. Mystic Pizza (1988) isn't a great film, it's better than this one, but it does reference the iconic romantic comedy It Happened One Night (1934) as we see two of the main characters hitchhiking and instead of Julia Roberts attracting a driver through exposing her ankles we see her boyfriend pull down his pants and attract a female driver. That scene showed how society had changed as women revealing a little skin was no longer shocking or titillating but a young man revealing himself was socially acceptable. The Artist simply takes great moments from classic silent films and films about the time period and cuts and pastes them into this film overlaying a different score and including film stars like John Goodman and Penelope Ann Miller in the fun.
The performances of the leads also felt dull to me because having recently seen Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) I could recognize what a good silent film performance looked like and Bejo and Dujardin were not hitting the mark. They smiled like idiots throughout and their dancing and old timey acting managed to irk me instead or charming me as it did when Debbie Reynolds was doing a similar thing in Singin' in the Rain. I wasn't rooting for the two to be together as I didn't like him, he was an ignorant sap, and despite her determination I couldn't respect her because she seemed to love him for no reason. Feeling either apathy or anger for the main characters in the film is never a good sign and because I watched Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) in the same day, which handles it's characters beautifully, I was able to fully realize how poorly this film is made.
The positives of the film are the cinematography and the score. Guillaume Schiffman's work is reminiscent of that Gunther Rittau in The Blue Angel (1930) as he captures the luminous face of Bejo and the darkness of Dujardin's downfall with crisp close-ups. Ludovic Bource's score is lovely as it carries us along on an adventure and reaches crescendos that were close to those of An American in Paris (1951). Unfortunately the rest of the film wasn't as good as these two elements.
I wouldn't recommend this film but I would argue that there are many 2011 films that were deserving of the Best Picture Award. The Tree of Life (2011) would probably be my choice but I also love Margaret (2011) and The Descendants (2011).
It's as close to a modern day classic as you can get; it tells the story of films' transition from the silent era to "talkies" and the downfall of some of films greatest silent actors because of it (in the early days of film, it didn't matter what you sounded like or if you could deliver a line. It was all about your presence on screen. With the advent of "talkies" that all changed).
If you like the idea of a movie about movies, then I would suggest the following as other options for you as well: The Purple Rose of Cairo, Cinema Paradiso, Peeping Tom, Sunset Blvd., Man with a Movie Camera, The Player, Singin' in the Rain, Ed Wood.