Silent Night, Talkie Day
An ode to silent cinema, The Artist is a charming, light, romantic Hollywood fantasy. French star Jean Dujardin portrays George Valentin, a silent-era matinee idol who wows audiences with his spirited adventure films. The introduction of sound to cinema, however, threatens him. He is swept aside by powerful studio man Al Zimmer (John Goodman), his silent films begin to play to half empty houses, and a new generation of stars with voices--including an ingenue he once had an innocent flirtation with, played by Bérénice Bejo--are enthralling audiences.
In one of the film's best scenes, and without a doubt its most clever, noise invades George Valentin's world--a ringing telephone, the thunderous crash of a falling leaf--but no noise will come out of his mouth, not even when he screams. I almost wish this idea had been explored further, a Who Framed Roger Rabbit style tale of a silent film character adrift in a sound world, but, no, it's just a nightmare, one which underlines the character's anxious situation. What does the future hold for him if the future isn't interested in what he has to offer?
What writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted is a novelty item, a bonbon. Hazanavicius doesn't say much more than, "I appreciate silent cinema. My adept cinematographer and I can recreate the silent film experience with great energy and style. My stars, Jean and Bérénice, know how to put on a winning show. Enjoy!"
But there's nothing wrong with an art-house popcorn movie, and The Artist is a solid, simple delight. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo do deliver big, broad, colorful performances with genuine movie-star power. And the best scenes, including a climactic dance performed by the two stars, will put huge smiles on audiences' faces, and there is value in this. It does run a bit long--George's rise and fall and rise would have been enough, we didn't need a rise and fall and rise and almost-fall and then a final rise--but, all in all, quite worthy.