Can a movie be any more pleasurable than this one? As the final credits roll, it will seem impossible.
Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.
Can a movie be any more pleasurable than this one? As the final credits roll, it will seem impossible. And yet, consider this:
“The Artist” (2011) is silent, it's black-and-white, its title refers to art, it ignores the CGI process, and its director and stars are French. I know, I know: how many more objections and reservations can the contemporary American moviegoer possibly have?
And yet I bet you'll enjoy it immensely as it reminds you of why you – that is, we – have long since fallen for the movies.
That's because “The Artist” – collector of ten Oscar nominations and the winner of five, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor – is a masterpiece of charm, energy, humor, nostalgia, and craft.
It's a comedy about the advent of the talkies in the late twenties and early thirties, bracketing the Great Depression, and one movie star's inability or unwillingness to adapt to change.
Oscar winner Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin (shades of Rudolph Valentino), a dashing and charismatic swashbuckler and matinee idol whose 1,000-watt killer smile, which he flashes around the clock like a state-of-the-art lighthouse beacon, shows us just how high on top of his world he sits. He's vain, all right, but he's also inherently and obviously decent.
When he meets Peppy Miller, a radiant and vivacious dancer and rising starlet played by co-star Berenice Bejo, at a movie premiere, the wealthy, influential star is instantly attracted to her, sensing that they are kindred spirits.
But he has no idea that soon the advent of sound will forever short-circuit his silents-are-golden career, or that Peppy's peppiness will help her to soar upward to the top of the movie game just as his career spirals downward, or that his off-screen life is about to be turned upside down by the stock market crash.
The supporting cast is primarily American, featuring and led by John Goodman as the Kinograph Studios boss, Penelope Ann MiIler as Valentin's unhappy wife, and James Cromwell as his devoted chauffeur. To say nothing of the uncanny "performance" by a scene-stealing Jack Russell Terrier – recalling Asta from the “Thin Man” movies – that is Valentin's constant companion on screen and off.
Oscar-winning writer-director Michel Hazanavicius also co-edited the superbly edited film, which also boasts breathtaking cinematography and makes great use of the sweeping, wonderfully evocative score by Ludovic Bource.
Hazanavicius' script, with its simple and timeless story, juggles echoes of lots of other movies of earlier eras, yet never for an instant, never for a frame, never for a sight gag does it seem truly derivative.
A smooth amalgam of comedy, romance, melodrama, and social history, it's joyous, wondrous, exuberant, intoxicating, and overwhelmingly endearing.
A thoroughly delightful throwback romantic comedy, “The Artist” is a crowd-pleasing love letter to Old Hollywood and American cinema, a movie to love for people who love movies.
Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.