Movie Review – The Artist

Synopsis: Hollywood 1927. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies will sound the death knell for his career and see him fall into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), it seems the sky’s the limit – major movie stardom awaits. The Artist tells the story of their interlinked destinies.

It is difficult to continue my family’s Christmas tradition of going to a movie with my husband and boys. Inevitably, we all want to see a different movie or, as happened last night, half of the family didn’t want to get out of the house. That left my mother and I able to go see a movie that she, living in a small East Texas town, would never have the opportunity to see – The Artist. Indeed, I think The Artist just arrived at our nearby Angelika though I’ve been reading rave reviews of it for weeks. What a perfect movie to see with her, the woman that introduced me to old movies when I was a teenager.

Instead of making  a modern movie about the transition of Hollywood movies from silent to talkies, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius made a silent movie, with all of the resultant idiocycric characteristics of the movies of the time. From the studio posed poster that reminds me of my favorite classic movie pair, William Powell and Myrna Loy, to quotation marks around the title card and static, straightforward title cards listing the crew, I was giddy with excitement from the moment the lights went down. There were so many callbacks to the tropes and characters of classic movies that I felt like I was transported back in time, or at least watching Turner Classic Movies. Just as John Hamm is perfectly cast, physically, as the ideal 60s adman, Jean Dujardin is physically perfect as George Valentin. Dujardin mimics the hammy acting mannerisms of the time and with his strong features and pencil-thin mustache, he is a perfect amalgamation of the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, the romanticism of John Gilbert and the long slide into disenchantment and alcoholism of John Barrymore. Hamm was an unknown before Mad Men that helped viewers buy him as a man of the 60s in the same way that Dujardin’s anonomity in the States let me forget that he is a modern actor playing a long dead stereotype. Berenice Bejo looks a bit too modern – with plump lips and a wafer thin figure – but she acts the hell out of the part of Peppy Miller and, like those stars of old who’s main talent needed to be star power and charisma, she owned the screen whenever she was on it.

Being in black and white, silent and a replica of the storytelling structure of the 20s and 30s, I can’t imagine The Artist (★★★★) appealing to anyone other than classic movie fans or cinephiles. It is a time capsule movie with characters and story.  The Artist is a welcome alternative to movies full of explosions, unbelievable action sequences and shaky camera work. It immediately ranks among my favorite movies of the year because of the way it respects a time of history that I am fascinated with. I’m optimistic that The Artist might turn some viewers onto classic movies or, at the very least, the full, rich and sometimes surprising history of Hollywood.