When I like a movie, it is normally for one of two reasons. Either A.) I enjoyed it or B.) I didn’t enjoy it, but I recognized that it was well made. I didn’t expect to enjoy The Artist. “A silent homage to the days of Old Hollywood? That’s art house stuff, not a fun night out.” Oh, how wrong I was. The Artist is warm, funny, heartfelt, romantic, engaging, and engrossing. It is so very close to being a perfect movie that it actually irritates me that it isn’t.
Right off the bat, I’ll say this. If you have any apprehensions about this movie, let go of them. They aren’t warranted. You will enjoy this movie if you’ve never even seen a silent film. The story is so interesting and the characters so fascinating that it won’t matter. By the end, you won’t even notice that there isn’t any dialogue. But be mindful of one thing. This isn’t a movie where the blaring speakers will mask the sound of your phone vibrating, and your fellow theater-goers will be even more annoyed for it. You’ve been warned.
This film contains some of the best acting I’ve seen in quite a while. Jean Dujardin, as fading silent movie star George Valentin, is simply amazing. He oozes with charm, he boils over with emotional power. None of the stars ever resort to “mugging at the camera”, a criticism of silent movies made by a character about halfway through. They simply play their roles as well as they can, relying on the audience to understand what’s happening. Berenice Bejo is also phenomenal as the almost-too-aptly named Peppy Miller, Valentin’s love interest. Her performance lines up perfectly with the effervescent tone of the film. I’ve been talking about soundtracks more often recently, and this film has an absolutely wonderful one. The music is beautiful to listen to, and it works perfectly in the context of the movie. Amazingly, it doesn’t fall into the trap that I mentioned in my review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The music never informs or manipulates your emotions in order to explain what is happening on screen (at least, not to an egregious degree). I was shocked to find that this was the case in a silent movie, where I was sure that it would have to be so.
Speaking of audience trust, director Michel Hazanavicius required quite a lot of it. He didn’t want to hold the viewer’s hand, but he didn’t want to leave them in the dirt either. In the first scene of the film, we see a sign hanging in a theater that says something like, “Please Be Silent During The Movie”. This is Hazanavicius’s way of saying, ” It’s a silent movie. If you’re not on board, now’s your chance to get off.” The movie has lots of cool sight gags like this (I’m sure there’s more that I didn’t notice the first time around), and even though they were occasionally cheesy, I didn’t care, because I was excited that someone put time and effort into making them, even if they were on screen for just a second. The visual imagery is spectacular. This is probably to be expected, for obvious reasons, but I was still surprised at how resonant it was. I won’t spoil anything, but you should pick up on it pretty early on. It’s done smartly and simply.
While watching, I appreciated what I was seeing, but I also got to thinking. “This isn’t as experimental as I thought it would be.” Part of that was me expectation that this would be an art house movie, but it still bugged me a little. I could imagine a boldly experimental version of The Artist, one that played with the notion of sound within the reality of the world. A dream sequence early in the film does this to great effect, and so does a moment at the end of the film, but I would have liked to see a lot more of it. My only other nitpick is that I was confused with the lead character’s motivations near the end. The scene I’m talking about works out of context, but given his prior actions, I found it really odd.
Of course, I’m happy with the movie we got. I’m more than happy, I’m thrilled with it. As I said before, this is extremely close to being perfect. It is 99.9% perfect, and it pains me that it is missing that crucial 0.01%. But you know what? The Artist is so close, that I might as well just round that percentage up to 100. The Artist is one of my new favorite movies, and it’s one that I simply can’t wait to revisit in the immediate future.