The Artist is a relentlessly charming movie. I spent the whole time watching it with a big, goofy grin on my face. The Francophone leads – Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo – are winning personalities, even without voices.
Yes, The Artist is that weird “silent film” that’s been getting all the awards buzz. I hate to bring up Oscar chatter in a review, but it played a large part of how I experienced the movie. I’d prefer to manage expectations. I wouldn’t go into this film expecting anything heavy or world-changing. While writer/director Michel Hazanavicius does clever things with the silent film form that would not work in a sound film, this is neither a deep exploration of the human condition nor a plot that is so original no audience members will be tempted to compare it true classics like Singin’ in the Rain or Citizen Kane. Side characters played by wonderful actors like James Cromwell and John Goodman are caricatures at best.
Still, what is fun and refreshing about this film is its intentional anachronism. There is, of course, sound under most of the film in the form of music and, I hope it is not a spoiler to say that it does not entirely avoid modern elements. (No scenes in color, though.)
Like the enchanting Hugo, I would recommend this film to anyone who loves movies and movie history. With the idea of film history in mind, plus a high-falutin’ title like The Artist and a concept of being a modern silent movie, you might expect it to be pretentious. That it is not. While clearly a labor of love from Hanavicius and his producer-collaborator Thomas Langmann (who put up his own cash to finish the film), it’s as airy and aim-to-please as a film can be.
Would it be a conservative reaction for the Academy to vote for a low-budget foreign-born Old Old Hollywood-style film in this age of grand 3D extravaganzas? Perhaps. Would it be a magnanimous gesture to choose an odd duck of a film because it is beautiful on the inside? Definitely. And that is my cynical reason why I think, The Artist, charming as it is, will not win Best Picture. Still, whether a bunch of Old Old Hollywood types see fit to bedizzen it with awards or not, go see The Artist at the first opportunity. And check your expectations at the door.