There’s no shortage of movies about movies. Wither you’re talking about films about actors, directors, writers, or even the occasional metatextual comment on the format itself, you can find plenty. Something else there’s no shortage of are rise-fall, and usually, rise again stories. I’ll go ahead and factor in stories about the Golden Age of filmmaking too. The point of this is, “The Artist” is not exactly exploring new territory here. It’s a film concerned with the past.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing, of course. The delight of a film doesn’t necessarily have much to do with its subject matter. And, no kidding, “The Artist” is rather delightful in spots. In its opening sequence, silent movie star George Valentine, after a successful screening of his latest adventure hit, does a tap dance across a stage before an adoring, applauding audience. He clowns around and mugs for the audience, doing tricks with his little dog, them loving it all along. Another joyous moment, involves the first encounter between Valentine and Peppy, an adoring fan and aspiring actress herself. The meeting is accidental and, after the two literally bump into each other, you wonder how Valentine will react. Will he be the egotistical actor cliché? It’s a genuine moment of mild suspense and when Valentine laughs it off and proceeds to mug with his new friend. Honestly, the relationship between Valentine and Peppy is the heart of the film and the scenes of the two interacting, such as a sweet moment when he finds her in his dressing room, are some of the film’s best moments. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo both have a lot of charm and chemistry.
However, it’s not hard to figure out where the story is going. Bejo is a star on the rise while Dujardin is all ready pass his prime. The film is set on at the end of the silent era and the beginning of talkies. Naturally, Dujardin’s Valentine is forgotten, washed-up, and falls on hard times while his once protégée surpasses him in fame and recognition. The film leans even harder on the death of silent film. George Valentine dismisses sound as a fad, sinks his own money into a destined-to-flop passion project silent epic. In a moment of exceedingly loaded visual symbolism, Dujardin has a dream where everyone can talk but him Later, he focuses on a cop’s flapping lips, apparently being unable to understand what he’s saying. The film falls into melodrama quickly. Considering this is a homage to golden age era melodramas, I guess I can’t really complain about that. Still, sequences of a drunken Valentine searching a burning building for a single film can or uncovering a room full of his old possessions lay it on a bit thick.
The movie does look fantastic. It perfectly captures the look and feel of silent cinema while convincingly looking the part. Since there’s (almost) no spoken dialogue, music is hugely important and Ludivic Bource’s score is fantastic. It evokes the era while filling in the missing emotions the lack of speech creates. The supporting cast is solid too, including a haggard John Goodman as your typical studio exec and James Cromwell as an overly loyal butler. The dog is adorable too.
I enjoyed “The Artist” a lot but it’s not a deep film. Visually fantastic, quite stirring, and leads up to a triumphant finale, it’s ultimately just dressing on a story we’ve seen and heard a thousand times before. It’s certainly very entertaining but the excessive amount of hype is misplaced. It’s still going to win best picture though. (7/10)