By: Garrett Collins
Starring: John Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Ed Lauter, Malcolm McDowell
Trust Me, Amigos. I did not want to like this film. After seeing and enjoying The Descendants very much, all I had heard was that this film, which seemed like a real gimmicky movie to me (a black & white silent film about old Hollywood? Argh) was right up there with the best of the year. Shaking my head, I walked into the theater, opened my review notebook, and then watched as the movie started. And, while I still hold The Descendants higher as far as what I feel to be the better movie, it is not by much. This film, it turns out, takes the silent film and uses it to its advantage, and not in a gimmicky way. In fact, it tells more with its lack of sound than most films tell with all the sound in the world (I’m talking to you, Mr. Bay).
The film is about George Valentin (Dujardin) a star of swashbuckling silent films, who is noticing a trend starting to develop in his working town of Hollywood. The silent moving pictures are now ever so slowly turning into talking moving pictures. As he slowly sees his world turned upside down, an up and coming star named Peppy Miller (Bejo) is singing and dancing her way to the top. The question through the film is not will Valentin eventually adjust. The question becomes whether he can put away the affair he is having long enough to welcome it into his life. No, not the one he is having with Miller behind his wife’s (Penelope Ann Miller, who I remember from Kindergarten Cop and still looks as stunning twenty years later) back. It’s, can he put old Hollywood behind him long enough to welcome in the ‘new’ age of talking films?
The plot may not sound that intriguing. And, when put against the backdrop of a silent film, it must sound even less intriguing. But, I am telling you: scenes like when he tells Miller that she needs that one different thing to make her a star, and then subsequently paints a mole on her face, are sweet, and make the film very enjoyable to watch. This, combined with some real funny moments (pretty much every time Valentin’s Jack Russell terrier comes into frame), and even some bizarre ones (the scenes of when Miller leans against a coat rack and when Valentin discovers sound come immediately to mind). The stars are all fantastic. Dujardin brings just the right combination of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to his role of Valentin, and has moments that really remind you of both. Bejo (who is married to director Michel Hazanavicius) is really good as well. However, Goodman, with his ever expressive face, was magnificently overlooked come award time. And, he has some pretty hilarious scenes as well.
If the idea of a silent film told in black and white doesn’t intrigue you, then I do not think this film will win you over. After all, even Martin Scorcese couldn’t use 3D to convince me that Hugo, which also sprinkled in some love for old Hollywood, was any more than a C+ movie. However, I would also tell you to give The Artist a chance. I, totally convinced that the Weinsteins were using this as pure gimmick and Oscar bait, really was not expecting much. But, even though it falls short of being my highest rated film of the year, Hazanavicius’ ability to make me laugh and go along with characters that most directors couldn’t use sound to convince me to like, makes me think that he is here to stay. As is this film’s ability to stay with you once you leave the theater. Now, who wants to dance?
4.5 out of 5