The Artist

With the focus on big-budget special effects, 3D movies, and Blu-Ray movies, it's somewhat anachronistic to see a silent movie in 2011. Nonetheless, The Artist tells a story about the film industry in the 1920s, as "talkies" first arrived on the scene. Although there are a few modern actors in it that you may recognize, the two main actors are foreign (French and Argentinian, respectively), so most Americans probably won't know them by sight.

The year is 1927, and silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, A View of Love) is enjoying a lucrative and successful career. By chance, he meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, Prey), and pictures of the two of them are splashed on the front page of Variety the next day, to the chagrin of Valentin's wife. He later has a run-in with Peppy again, as she has auditioned for and been cast as a dancer in his new movie. Two years later, however, in 1929, the "talkies" start production, and studio exec Al Zimmer (John Goodman, Red State) wants a fresh cast of characters; he fires Valentin and brings in Peppy and some younger actors to start this new era in filmmaking.

Valentin decides to become a director and make his own film, since the big studios are no longer doing silent films, but it flops. Meanwhile, Peppy's star is rising, and she has become one of the more sought-after actresses in the business. However, she still remembers that it was Valentin that gave her her start in the business, and, in fact, even advised her to add a mole of sorts to her face, to make her stand out from the other actresses; indeed, her mole is now her signature "look." She tries to help Valentin but unfortunately he sinks deeper into depression and despair, since he is no longer the star that he was just a few short years ago.

In silent movies, actors must convey much emotion without saying anything, or at least nothing the audience hears, and both Dujardin and Bejo were great in their roles. The only two actors that I recognized in the movie were Goodman, as the studio exec, and also James Cromwell (Secretariat), as Valentin's driver, who is later fired when Valentin can't afford to pay him. This helped contribute to the "magic" of the black and white film; I think that if the director (Michel Hazanavicius) had cast more well-known actors as Valentin and Peppy, it would have been harder for the audience to buy in to the concept of a silent movie.

Maybe see this film. This is one of the only reviews I have written that will get a high star rating (3.5/5) but to which I will give a "Maybe" rather than "Yes" review, because I know that it won't be everyone's "cup of tea." I am not a huge fan of black and white "old time" movies from the 1910's and '20s, but I did enjoy The Artist, because it told an interesting story with almost zero dialogue. Interestingly enough, the film is nominated for a Golden Globe, but in the Best Comedy/Musical category, where it is up against such films as Bridesmaids and 50/50; an odd selection of movies to pit against one another. The Artist has already been winning many awards, however, so I think it does have a good chance of winning the Golden Globe in its category, especially because it has been doing so well with critics.

The Artist is in theaters today, December 23rd, and is rated PG-13 with a runtime of 100 minutes. 3.5 stars out of 5.

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