Movies: "The Artist" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "The Artist"
Movies: "The Artist"

 

“The Artist” has finally arrived here, just in time to cash in on its ten (!) Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (for Jean Dujardin) and Best Supporting Actress (for the luminous Berenice Bejo, although why she got the supporting nod is a mystery;  she’s clearly Dujardin’s co-star).

 

By now, everyone surely knows that in this age of 3-D, Imax, CGI and Dolby Sound, “The Artist” reverts back to the silent era, complete with dialogue cards and dance numbers.  What you may not know is that despite its original presentation, this is a virtual remake of “A Star is Born.”  Even the music score (by Ludovic Bource) lifts from Hitchcock great Bernard Herrman’s score for “Vertigo.”

 

With its decidedly retro ambience, "The Artist" joins the ranks of two other Oscar contenders, "Hugo" and "Midnight in Paris" that look back wistfully to the 1930s -- although a decade that would soon give way to the grimmest of modern times, World War II. 

 

Dujardin, who played an idiotic secret agent in two highly popular (in France) “OSS 117” movies, is winning as George Valentin, a dashing Douglas Fairbanks-style silent screen star whose world is turned upside down when talkies come in.  Bejo (who co-starred with Dujardin in one of those silly spy movies) is smashing as Peppy Miller, the sweet ingenue who becomes the bigger star of the two.  And there is some nice supporting work from Hollywood veterans John Goodman as a studio boss, James Cromwell as Valentin’s loyal chauffeur, and a brief appearance by Malcolm McDowell.

 

And then there’s the dog.  Playing a sprightly Jack Russell terrier who seemingly appears in all Valentin’s movies, then curls up with him on the dining room table, the canine star Uggie has been nominated for two Golden Collar awards (he also had a part in “Water for Elephants”), and is said to be retiring from the silver screen, having reached the age of ten.

 

So far, so good.  But I was somewhat disappointed in the overall experience of “The Artist.”  I found it a little too long and a little too corny.

 

Look, I know writer/director Michel Hazanavicius is deliberately returning us to an age of movie guys and gals who meet cute (in this case in a half-obscured little dance routine), get their hearts broken, then wind up in a big finale.  But doesn’t it seem a little too late for all this schmaltz?  Fritz Lang, Buster Keaton, even Laurel and Hardy were silent film makers too, and their movies had very little of this kind of soppy sentiment.  

 

But don’t take my word for it.  Go see it for yourself, then see if the Oscar goes to this charming, but slight, French throwback.  Right now, I’m guessing it probably will.

 

“The Artist” is rated PG-13, for reasons I can’t fathom.  Oh wait, there’s smoking and drinking, but nary a cussword.  Nary any word, for that matter.  I give it a B.

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