STARS: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, Uggie
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius
GENRE: Silent/Romantic Comedy/Drama
A black and white silent film in the 21st century? A la Monty Python...BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT!
Suave and "deboner" French actor Jean Dujardin--whom I enjoyed in OSS 117-Lost In Rio--has parlayed his collaboration there with director Michel Hazanavicius into something totally transcendent in The Artist.
Dujardin is silent film star George Valentin, whose career takes a nose-dive (no pun intended referring to the actor's distinctive honker) in the late twenties with the advent of talking pictures.
He is still in his heyday when we begin--getting unintentionally paired in a photograph with a young, ambitious film extra named Peppy Miller (the effervescent Berenice Bejo). When the photo hits the papers, it has some repercussions with George's wife (Penelope Ann Miller).
When the sound era of film began, many silent movie stars were swept out with the tide. The talkies required a new and different type of star--one who could be more expressive with his voice than the flailing of arms type of pantomime that was often required to get the point across in silent film. We follow George as bad turns to worse, and when the great depression hits, his wife dumps him, and he has to auction off most of his belongings just to keep afloat.
But his faithful Jack Terrier (the irrepressible "Uggie") is at his side through thick and thin--much to our delight. Perhaps the most adorable, expressive, and talented film dog of all time--and yes, like Lassie, he can "save Timmy from the well."
Meanwhile, Peppy Miller's star is on the rise, thanks to studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) who has taken her under his wing. But she has always had a soft spot in her heart for Valentin, longing wistfully that she could do something for him besides stand by and watch him go under.
George's fate appears sealed not so much by circumstances beyond his control, but by his staunch refusal to grow with and adapt to the times. But thanks to a hidden talent he possesses--which you'll see briefly on display near the beginning of the film--there may be hope on the horizon for him after all.
I have always been of a mind (as regular readers know) that a soundtrack can make or break a film. And nowhere in the modern movie making era has a film composer had such an opportunity to shine as in The Artist. I read some reviews of the film that DIDN'T EVEN MENTION the music! (In my book, that's next to criminal, not to mention brain dead.) Without Mark Isham's brilliant, nearly non-stop, intermittently lilting and dramatic score--which is as much the star of this movie as anything else--we would not be sitting here gushing about The Artist. Not even close.
Dujardin, known primarily as a French actor prior to his triumph here, can now add "international" to his title of film star. And Bejo has the kind of star presence that had me thinking throughout the movie that she was someone I was quite familiar with, but just couldn't come up with the name. Maybe that was just a psychic glimpse into the future.
Already a hit at The Golden Globes, The Artist is destined for multiple Oscar nominations as well.