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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Artist | Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman | Review

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The Artist

When I first heard the title and knew nothing else about the film, I thought The Artist was going to be about a painter, which was way off base. Although it does paint a portrait of a bygone era in films, the story revolves around a silent screen star who thought of himself as a motion picture “artist”, in a time when silence was golden.

Filmed in black and white with subtitles, The Artist by writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies) is his homage to silent films and like nothing modern day theatre audiences have had the pleasure of experiencing. It stars two actors that are unknown in the states, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo (the filmmaker's wife) who was born in Argentina and raised in France, and a supporting cast of accomplished American actors.

The Artist tells the story of silent screen star George Valentin (Dujardin), who in 1927, finds his movie career on a rapid decline with the arrival of talkies. As George's star begins to fade, aspiring actress and dancer, Pepper Miller's (Bejo) star begins to rise. The two first meet during a chance encounter on the red carpet at one of his film premieres and form an instant attraction. Something about her also captures the attention of the media and before too long she moves from work as a film extra to lead actress and Hollywood's new sweetheart, or what they called the “it girl”.

Meanwhile, as the industry is entering a new era with the advent of sound and dialogue, George gets dumped by his studio boss, Al Zimmer (the wonderful, facially expressive John Goodman) who says the public needs fresh meat and talking faces, not George. George's wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) takes leave and the only two devoted enough to stick by his side through thick and thin are his loyal chauffeur and valet Clifton (James Cromwell) and his adorable on screen sidekick/ offscreen companion and most prized possession, a Jack Russell terrier (played by Uggie) who manages to steal every scene he is in.

The stock market crash of 1929 takes a very heavy toll on George. The movie he decides to produce by himself turns out to be a flop. In financial ruin and having to sell off everything he owns, he proceeds to drown his troubles in alcohol. While all this is going down, Peppy, now catapulted to major stardom, still carries affection for the former big screen idol and has never forgotten that he was responsible for her one big break.

Borrowing elements from A Star is Born and Singing in the Rain, The Artist offers up a clever mix of comedy, love story, near tragedy, and ultimately, a happy ending.

Sure, The Artist is a novelty among today's big screen loud blockbusters, but that doesn't make it less engaging and effective. Shot with precise attention to detail, the costumes and sets brilliantly recreate the era of the late 1920's. Jean Dujardin with his dashing, handsome looks, and million dollar smile is perfectly cast as George Valentin, a Douglas Fairbanks type matinee idol, and his leading co-star, the vivacious, bright eyed Berenice Bejo reminded me of a young Leslie Caron in her heyday.

I wouldn't go so far as to say The Artist is the best picture of 2011. It is what it is, a well crafted take on an old art form for today's generation of movie goers. It is said, as time goes by, everything old everything becomes new again. Check out this charming and delightful salute to silent films and you will see what I am talking about.

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