Despite all the film’s superficial detractors, the story will ultimately feel second-nature to all of us. It’s not so much an exercise for the avant-garde as it is a throwback to simple, straightforward, and pure storytelling. Michael Hazanavicius’ The Artist explores the story of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) whose professional life and personal life take a nosedive with the advent of talking pictures. Along the way, he meets the charismatic up-and-coming star of the talkies Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who becomes somewhere between his student and his competition, his friend and his soulmate.
The film is more than just a wonderful ode to the silent era; it is a nostalgic celebration of storytelling in any medium. Words are replaced by the contours of a face and loud booms are swapped for a sweeping score, but the audience gets it. In the ultimate example of the ageless maxim “show, don’t tell,” we’re swept up with Valentin as he journeys from the pinnacle of celebrity to the fading veteran, and from the depths of depression to the heights of redemption.
Much of the film’s praise should be credited to Dujardin, who is sure to land an Best Actor nomination. We don’t hear his voice until the closing minutes of the film, but his charm is addicting and his charisma undeniable..a perfect poster boy for a crowd-pleasing film. Running on a close-second is “the dog”, a Jack Russell terrier named Uggie who would’ve made a nice run for Best Supporting Actor (if only he could talk).
The sole issue with The Artist lies in its crowd-pleasing strength. That’s all it is — a pleasurable movie-going experience, but nothing sticks under our skin and penetrates into our memories after walking out of the theater. Like the silent film, it is trapped and respected in its finite vacuum…not an experience that lingers and makes us go Wow when we head to bed. As a stand-alone film, it’s a very good one. “But in the midst of Oscar season, it is unfortunately not the Best Picture frontrunner Harvey Weinstein is hoping for.