Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Artist (2011)

I re-watched The Artist last night. This time I watched it on Netflix Streaming. Originally I saw it first-run in the theater. Overall the movie is pretty much as I remembered it. I admired director Michel Hazanavicius's look of the silent film and the ode to old Hollywood. I also admired the performances of Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.

Story-wise, The Artist seems to be a rip-off of the many incarnations of A Star is Born. The film opens with the successful silent film star George Valentine, played by Dujardin, feeding his adoring public by strutting his stuff following the opening of another successful film of his. Aspiring actress Peppy Miller, played by Bejo, bumps into Valentine at the movie opening and manages to get into a photograph with him. With the resulting publicity and a little help from Valentine, Miller lands a small role in Valentine's next movie. After that, her career takes off.

In the meantime, Valentine's movie studio stops making silent films and channels its resources into talking motion pictures. Valentine believes that talkies are only a fad and refuses to try to change. Miller is signed by the studio and become a raging success in talking movies. Valentine finances one more silent film which flops. His marriage also fails and his wife leaves him. Valentine finds himself broke and has to sell his personal assets. He is also unable to pay his faithful chauffeur and assistant.
Valentine spirals downward,  eventually nearly dying in a fire. Miller tries to assist him, but he rejects her help and contemplate suicide. However, Miller manages to intervene and convinces Valentine that she only wants to help him.  She succeeds in getting the movie studio to agree to put Valentine in a dance film with her. The movie ends with a terrific tap dance number and the optimistic feeling that Valentine will be a success once more.

Dujardin and Bejo deliver wonderful performances. Dujardin invests Valentine with charm, charisma (complete with a high-wattage smile), and depth, making him a believable movie star. Dujardin won a Best Actor Oscar for his incandescent portrayal of George Valentine. While I haven't seen all of Dujardin's fellow nominees' performances, his win was probably deserved -- even over Brad Pitt's terrific turn as baseball manager Billy Beane in Moneyball. Bejo was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her delightful performance as Peppy Miller, and I think she captures elusive star quality magnificently. She lost the Oscar to The Help's Octavia Spencer; my preference would have been Bejo. Other cast members include John Goodman as the movie studio head, James Cromwell as Valentine's chauffeur, Malcolm McDowell as a butler, and Penelope Ann Miller as Valentine's wife.

The Artist won Best Picture of 2011, though I thought a few of the other nominees were better movies overall. (I was rooting for Hugo.). The story was too pedestrian and would have been absolutely painful had it not been for the novelty of The Artist being a black-and-white silent film. Michel Hazanavicius also won for his direction. I think he succeeded admirably in recreating silent movies and the look of old Hollywood and I also liked the way he played with sound in the film. Kudos also go to Hazanavicius for the minimal use of title cards. The ever-present dog in the film was a nice touch. While Hazanavicius was undoubtedly a very strong nominee, I probably would have given the edge to the also-nominated Martin Scorsese for Hugo. The Artist is definitely a worthwhile film, and I'll probably watch it again over the years because of some of the amazing scenes between Dujardin and Bejo. Especially that last dance number! Grade: B+.

Fun fact: Berenice Bejo is the real-life wife of Michel Hazanavicius.

I re-watched The Artist on Netflix streaming on January 5, 2013.

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