Movie review: “The Artist”

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Partner and I have not seen very many of this year’s Academy Award nominees: only “The Descendants” and “The Help,” in fact.  We decided to remedy this by going to “The Artist” last weekend.

 

 

Hmm.

 

 

If you haven’t heard, this is a modern black-and-white silent movie (well, “silent” in that it has no spoken dialogue; there’s a lively musical background patched together from classic film scores, old songs, and some new music.)  The plot is a marriage of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “A Star is Born,” with lots of other movies thrown in.  In brief: it’s 1927.  George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a handsome leading man who absolutely refuses to do talkies.  Peppy Martin (Berenice Bejo) is a cute newcomer who becomes a talkie sensation.  His downward path crosses her upward path, and . . .

 

 

Yes, well.  It’s nice, and funny, and well-directed (which I especially appreciate after seeing the catastrophically-directed  “Iron Lady” two weeks ago).  Dujardin and Bejo are fun to watch: he’s a pastiche of Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, and Gene Kelly, with a killer smile, and she’s a combo of Joan Crawford (when she was very very very young), Carole Lombard, Clara Bow, Debbie Reynolds, and maybe some Ginger Rogers.  There’s a cute dog who does tricks and follows Dujardin everywhere.  The movie’s packed with all-star performances: John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller.

 

 

It’s also a game of Trivial Pursuit in movie form.  I caught references to at least two dozen different movies: “Citizen Kane,” “Grand Hotel,” “Dinner at Eight,” “The Band Wagon.”  I’m sure I missed two dozen others. When Dujardin and his wife have breakfast together and she digs into her grapefruit, I flinched a little.  When Dujardin clowns with his food (in tandem with his dog) – well, who else but Chaplin?

 

 

It’s charming, but not very moving.  There are melancholy moments – Dujardin’s retreat into depression as his career goes sour, Bejo’s anxious attempts to watch over him from afar – but your heart tells you that all will be well in the end, and (forgive me if I spoil the movie for you) your heart would be right about that.   “A Star Is Born” had a sad ending, remember, but “Singin’ in the Rain” did not . . .

 

 

But not every movie needs to tear your heart out.  This is a shiny little gem of a movie; maybe it ain’t a diamond, but it’s been polished to a very high luster. 

 

 

Okay.  Only six more movies to see before Oscar night . . . .


 

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