The Artist
His interest in the newspaper over the girl at his side
reminds the world of the horrific days prior to erectile
dysfunction meds.

The Artist
Review Written by: Alex Sandell

Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist is that rare film that will please nearly everyone, while never "pulling a Sandler" by lowering itself down to the lowest common dominator to earn its praise. The film can be viewed on various levels. Many will take away a sweet romance and a love letter to a bygone era. Others will see it as a movie about the fear of -- and then the eventual acceptance -- of change. Most people won't see it at all because it's a silent film, and that's its only hurdle at the box-office.

The Artist is a love letter to Hollywood. A love letter to fans of film. But it's not content to ride the coattails of nostalgia. The movie is mostly silent and projected in black & white (despite having been filmed in color), but it isn't, as those contributing to the current backlash claim, a "gimmick." The Artist is a crowd-pleasing movie designed under the auspices of being a movie to please a select group of discernible film buffs. When leaving the theater, smiling from ear-to-ear, I tried imaging who wouldn't enjoy this flick. A week later, and I still haven't thought of anybody Grinchy enough to not derive pleasure from this impressively well put together little gem of a film.

The audience is transported by The Artist to a different time and place, but never once does it forget it's a modern film -- even when its audience may. There are moments that wake us up to the fact that it's the 21st century, and these reminders of how film has progressed are nearly as startling to us as they are to the movie's silent film star protagonist, George Valentin.

Jean Dujardin is mesmerizing as George Valentin. He is so convincingly from the past, that seeing the actor in current interviews after watching the film is akin to finding out Rudolph Valentino didn't really pass away 80 years ago -- but merely went on hiatus. In an anti-aging chamber, most likely hidden somewhere beneath Disney World. Dujardin is so good in his role, it's hard to believe The Artist isn't his latest in a long line of silent films. Without him, this movie would never work as well as it does.

That isn't to say the rest of the cast is slacking. John Goodman is great as old-fashioned studio boss, Al Zimmer. To him, movies are all about the bottom-line, and when the "talkie" comes in, Al decides it's time to push his studio's biggest star, George Valentin out. Without his unrequited love interest, the spry Peppy Miller (
Bérénice Bejo, in in a real charmer of a role), poor George would be forever a relic. At least until the Academy grants him some sort of Lifetime Achievement award, long after it could really do a thing to help his career (ala Charles Chaplin).

It's hard not to think of Charles Chaplin throughout the film. While Charlie wasn't the only actor/director/producer from the silent era who was never quite able to successfully convert his stardom from silent films to the talkies, it is his story that is probably the best known. Mr. Chaplin was one of the longest hold outs from adding voices to his films and he grew increasingly bitter toward the system for the change and was convinced the whole "hearing people talking" thing was a fad (like MySpace, or 3DTV).  As Mr. Chaplin needed the younger, hipper Paulette Goddard to drag him kicking and screaming into using his voice; The Artist's George Valentin needs growing superstar, Peppy Miller to at least try and save him from his own self-imposed obsolescence.

A 21st century audience used to bombastic 3D films such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon is going to need their own Peppy to drag them into the past, to find this beautiful movie that will be considered a classic well into the future. Will fans of The Artist succeed in brining their more mainstream movie friends to the theaters to see a silent film? It won't be easy. Will Peppy succeed in bringing George out of the silent film era and into the world of talkies? Not without a fight. The Artist opens with a character trying to get George to "speak." "I'll never talk," says George. It's a cleverly ironic opening to the film and lays out one of the main themes of the movie. Change is never easy, The Artist tells us. But maybe, if we just give it a chance, we'll see change isn't always for the worse.

The Artist is an old-fashioned comedy, trading between the heart-breaking and the joyous, but never losing its magic or its hope in humanity to adapt. In a strange way, it's not unlike The Matrix -- only this time the red pill transports you into the futuristic world of sound, rather than a cynical world of two increasingly abysmal big-budget sequels.

Sometimes we need to look to the past to remind us that we shouldn't be afraid of the future. Sometimes we need to stop and take a breath and let a film wash over us. Sometimes we just need to leave the theater with an ear-to-ear grin and a reminder as to the power of cinema. The Artist is the movie that accomplishes all of this, and that is why it is easily my favorite film of 2011.

94 out of 100

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©2012 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]. Copy this without my permission and I'll take away your voice, your hearing and then I'll hide all your interstile cards.