Michel Hazanavicius’ ode to silent cinema, “The Artist,” is both a front-runner in this year’s Oscars and a creative, textured film history lesson, bolstered by a strong lead performance from Jean Dujardin.
Dujardin stars as silent film superstar George Valentin, a charming screen presence who rejects the new technology of “talkies” and finds himself overshadowed by new “it” girl Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).
In a film with almost no dialogue, every other aspect stands out. The cleverness of Hazanavicius’ screenplay shines through brightly, while Dujardin’s perpetual grin often gives way to moments of true pathos. Ludovic Bource’s score does a lot of the film’s heavy lifting and stands out as one of the most remarkably underappreciated scores in some time.
Unfortunately, “The Artist” ends up suffering under the weight of its own gimmick, and seems entirely too pleased with itself for being a silent film to find the time to consistently entertain the audience. While certain stretches of the film are extremely charming — the beginning of George and Peppy’s friendship stands out — it also can drag more than a little in its back half and ends up feeling overlong and undercooked.
The strength of its conceit is what makes “The Artist” worth checking out as a look at Hollywood history and an entertaining throwback, but also what makes “The Artist” disappoint as the film goes on and it becomes clear that the gimmick may overwhelm everything else.
Printed on Monday, December 5th, 2011 as: Silent film stands as history lesson, acting creates charming moments