By Carolyn Williams
If the first thing you think when someone brings up “The Artist” is that the average modern moviegoer wouldn’t want to sit through what they think will be an outdated, black and white silent film, think again. Michel Hazanavicius’s new movie is light, funny and a genuine delight to see.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) stars as one of the most famous silent movie stars in Hollywood. Conceited and egocentric, but with his heart in the right place, Valentin is on top of the world. He meets the young dancer, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), on the set of one of his starring roles, and is impressed with her charm, taking her under his wing. Valentin tells Peppy she needs something to set her apart from the competition and draws on a beauty mark, which will become her signature look. Little does Valentin know that Peppy’s on the way up, and he’s on the way down.
With the advent of talkies, many young stars, like Peppy, get their big break, while Valentin, who publicly denounces the new technology as a fad, fades into the distance, losing his fame and fortune with only his dog, his performing partner, to keep him company. But Peppy has not forgotten who gave her the first help she ever got in Hollywood and is determined to pull him out of his slump.
In true silent movie style, the cast of “The Artist” are from all over the world, with a variety of native tongues. (Dujardin is French, Bejo is Argentinean, for example). The supporting cast is excellent, particularly John Goodman as the formidable film studio head.
Remember, this is a silent film about the first movies with sound and Hazanavicius is very sly about this subject material, which pays off dividends. The modern silent film does have a great soundtrack, rather than the outdated piano being played in the theatre. Deprived of sound, the actors do have to ham it up a little, but within the context of the film, it works, particularly for the extremely expressive Dujardin.
And, really, if anyone needs any more verification that “The Artist” is worth the ticket price, they can consider the fact that it has 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Dujardin and Best Supporting Actress for Bejo. After already taking home three Golden Globes last month, critics are predicting even more success for “The Artist” this Sunday. But regardless of what film aficionados say, “The Artist” is truly one of the most charming movies of this or any year, and you’ll thank yourself for seeing it.