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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8.11%
Average: 35.14%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Artist, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Your usual middle-of-the-road Oscar favorite."
3 stars

The silent-film valentine "The Artist," currently steamrolling towards a Best Picture win at the Oscars in a few weeks, is an enjoyable lollipop of a film. I don’t know that it’s the best of the year, but then I don’t know that the other eight nominees are, either.

Away from the hype and the awards, it tells the simple story of a silent star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who faces a dark night of the soul when talkies encroach. The French do love these fables of obsolescence: the animated film The Illusionist, Oscar-nominated last year, considered the pain of an elderly magician at sea in a world of rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps the Academy loves these fables, too (Martin Scorsese’s birth-of-cinema fantasia Hugo is also nominated). The powerful love to pity themselves when the powerless — the plebes, the audience — reject them for the next new thing.

For about the first 45 minutes, Jean Dujardin has a toothy grin of self-satisfaction bisecting his face. It becomes a little annoying, more so maybe because we realize George is being set up for a humbling fall. A young actress who got a walk-on (or dance-on) in one of his films, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), is rising fast in the new world of talkies. She pities him, I guess, and tries to help him out, but he’s too proud. His long-suffering wife (Penelope Ann Miller) kicks him out of their mansion. He moves to a schlubby apartment, accompanied by his loyal dog and his equally loyal chauffeur (James Cromwell), who refuses to leave even though he hasn’t been paid in a year. I was thinking: Dude, I don’t care if you can’t pay your driver — he can get another job — but your dog can’t get another job, and you’d better be putting some food in his dish.

Ah, but none of this is supposed to be taken literally or even seriously, I know. It is, as I said, a fable. The talkies made many stars but destroyed many others, many of whom just couldn’t tone down their effects — their “mugging” — or had terrible voices, like Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain (still, by the way, the movie to beat on the subject of Hollywood’s silent-to-talkies transition). This all coincided with the Great Depression (as we see here), and despair was all too common. Nobody wants to see a movie about Marie Prevost, the silent-film star who was found dead in a hotel room at 38, with bites on her legs from her dachshund trying to wake her up. That kind of story doesn’t win Oscars or get embraced by art-house audiences looking for comfort food. But it was the reality for a lot of people like George Valentin.

I’m not saying I wanted The Artist to be that kind of story, either. But writer-director Michel Hazanavicius toys with despair only to gloss over it. The ending seems a bit neutral: we’re not sure if George is indeed going to have a comeback or if he should just be happy being in front of a camera again with the woman he loves. Or does he? George and Peppy hardly spend any time together, and it seems like more of a mentor-student relationship, as in The Illusionist. There’s not a lot of personality to go around (though James Cromwell speaks volumes with a few subtle expressions, and John Goodman provides some fun as a producer); even the dog only has his one trick (play dead), repeated without variation.

The dog is adorable, like everyone else here, but adorability only takes you so far.

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originally posted: 02/13/12 06:28:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2011 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Film Festival For more in the 2011 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2011 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 34th Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/09/12 David Hollingsworth A film that sticks with you, way after the credits are over 5 stars
5/21/12 Colin Firth I wish I wasn't so all mighty graceless and could dance like Jean. 5 stars
5/17/12 Geraldine Fun and super enjoyable. 5 stars
4/05/12 Call me anytime I have to learn French Jean Dejardin I love you.. 5 stars
4/03/12 merp Quality filmmaking, interesting 4 stars
4/03/12 Lillian Gish Liked this movie on first viewing. Now thinking about it, I like it even more. 5 stars
3/26/12 Archie Leach A film that will stand the test of time. 5 stars
3/09/12 Suzz interesting film making, good performances but boring 3 stars
2/13/12 R.W. Welch A little slow in spots, but strong finale. Good score. B+ 4 stars
2/03/12 mr.mike It's best feature was in not taking itself too seriously. 4 stars
1/23/12 Peter Van Howe I saw this movie last night (Jan. 22, 12). I can't get it out of my head! Going again now! 5 stars
12/22/11 Isaac This movie was phenomenal. It will certainly win Best Picture this year at the Oscars. 5 stars
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  23-Nov-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Jun-2012

  30-Dec-2011 (PG)

  DVD: 26-Jun-2012

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