By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
The Artist is a love story, all right. But the lovers are the movies — and us.
Can a movie be any more pleasurable than this one? As you exit from this brilliant entertainment, it will seem impossible.
And yet, consider this:
The Artist is silent, it’s black-and-white, its title refers to art, it ignores the CGI and 3D processes, and its director and stars are French.
I know, I know — how many more objections and reservations can the contemporary American moviegoer possibly have?
And yet I bet you’ll enjoy it immensely as it reminds you of why you (that is, we) have long since fallen for the movies.
That’s because The Artist is a masterpiece of charm, energy, humor, nostalgia, and craft.
It’s a comedy about the advent of the talkies in the late ’20s and early ’30s, bracketing the Great Depression, and one movie star’s inability or unwillingness to adapt to change.
Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin (shades of Rudolph Valentino), a dashing and charismatic swashbuckler and matinee idol whose 1,000-watt killer smile, which he flashes around the clock like a state-of-the-art lighthouse beacon, shows us just how high on top of his world he sits.
He’s vain, all right, but he’s also inherently and obviously decent.
When he meets Peppy Miller, a radiant and vivacious dancer and rising starlet played by co-star Berenice Bejo, at a movie premiere, the wealthy, influential star is instantly attracted to her, sensing that they are kindred spirits.
But he has no idea that soon the advent of sound will forever short-circuit his silents-are-golden career, or that Peppy’s peppiness will help her to soar upward to the top of the movie game just as his career spirals downward, or that his off-screen life is about to be turned upside down by the stock market crash.
The supporting cast is primarily American, featuring and led by John Goodman as the Kinograph Studios boss, Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin’s unhappy wife, and James Cromwell as his devoted chauffeur. To say nothing of the uncanny “performance” by a scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier (recalling “Asta” from the Thin Man movies) that is Valentin’s constant companion on screen and off.
The writer-director, Michel Hazanavicius (best known for the James Bond parodies OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, and OSS 117: Lost in Rio), also co-edited the superbly edited film, which also boasts breathtaking cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman and makes great use of the sweeping, wonderfully evocative score by Ludovic Bource.
Hazanavicius’ script, with its simple and timeless story, juggles echoes of A Star is Born, Singin’ in the Rain, and Sunset Boulevard, among other movies of earlier eras, and yet never for an instant, never for a frame, never for a sight gag does it seem truly derivative.
A smooth amalgam of comedy, romance, melodrama, and social history, The Artist — with its dialogue printed in English on old-fashioned inter-titles — is joyous, wondrous, exuberant, intoxicating, and overwhelmingly endearing.
So we’ll mime all 4 stars out of 4 for the thoroughly delightful throwback romantic comedy The Artist, a silent movie that just might make a lot of noise on Oscar night.
This crowd-pleasing love letter to Old Hollywood and American cinema is a movie to love for people who love movies.