The Artist Review
By Lorraine Hirakawa / January 23

Ingredients: Not quite Sunset Boulevard meets A Star is Born, but it is close enough to say that if you find them appealing, you’ll certainly enjoy this film.

The Jazz Singer, the first American talky made its debut in the year The Artist begins, 1927. The film spans the seven year relationship that develops between rising ingénue, Peppy Miller, played by an adorable Berenice Bejo, and the falling star of George Valentin, the dashing and loveable Jean Dujardin. In a film experiment that will have audiences talking, though not in the theater.

The story is actually a familiar one, one star rising, the other plummeting. But this film isn’t the sad Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Valentin is not a child star faded and deteriorating, he is an artist who believes in the value of silent films. As a star, he takes the time to help young Peppy Miller create her distinctive look and gives her her first big break in a film despite the director’s (John Goodman) annoyance. He’s a good guy whose time has run out, whose star has lost its shine, whose seen better days, whose…I think you get the clichĂ©. And Peppy Miller isn’t your scheming young star sleeping her way to the top. She’s charming, clever, and talented and works her way to top billing as talkies become all the rage. Over the years, Miller secretly watches Valentin’s career, including his last ditch effort at making his own movie, which, along with the stock market crash of 1929, bankrupts Valentin who is soon abandoned by his detached wife and living in a rundown apartment, swilling whiskey with only his dog.

Beyond the story there are lots of perks to spending a couple hours in the dark watching a silent black and white film in 2012. Dujardin and Bejo have perhaps some of the most expressive eyes and faces on the big screen, even James Cromwell (as Clifton,Valentin’s chauffeur) has a charm and expression that frequently go unappreciated in this age of mind numbing explosions and surround sound. And of course, the scene stealing dog, Uggie, makes the film. With his “What’s that, Uggie, Valentino set the house on fire,” rescue and “Don’t shoot yourself” leg tug, Uggie saves the life of our protagonist not once, but twice.

Additionally, Hazanavicius plays with great film making symbolism, Peppy (Bejo) always climbing up stairs and Valenin (Dujardin) always heading down. And there’s plenty of homage paid to the legends of silent film. It may begin with the look of George Valentin and his name, no doubt meant as a tip of the hat to silent film star Rudolph Valentino. But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does it begin in the year of the first talky, but it continues to celebrate the genre by using a clip from The Mark of Zorro during Valentin’s most intense emotional moment when he burns most of his films in a drunken rage of frustration. Nice touches that don’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Of course the movie has to end happily with these two stars finding their way to love and fame in a way that makes statement without saying a word. The lovely Peppy convinces Valentin to take a role in her new film and she helps him tap dance his way back onto the silver screen.

1 comment:

  1. Huh, that actually sounds a little better then I thought it would be. Thanks for the review.