November 29, 2011

MOVIES: The Artist (Michael Hazanavicius, 2011)

The Artist is a black-and-white silent film about the death of silent film. It's equal parts Singin' in the Rain and A Star Is Born, with homages along the way to everything from Citizen Kane to Vertigo, and it's one of the best movies of the year.

It opens in 1927, when George Valentin (Dujardin) is the biggest movie star in the world. But sound is about to change the movies, and George has no interest in what he sees as gimmickry. Making the adjustment more easily is Peppy Miller (Bejo), who has clawed her way up from extra to leading lady, and replaced George in the public's eye.

Their relationship is the heart of the story, and the two are absolutely charming, both individually and together. Dujardin plays George as sort of a Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler, and even when his characters are at their most roguish, you understand why audiences love him. Bejo is more of an "America's Sweetheart" type, almost cloyingly sweet at moments, but her intense warmth and large, expressive eyes cut through the treacle whenever it threatens to become overwhelming.

They dominate the movie, but there are nice small turns from John Goodman as a studio executive, James Cromwell as George's manservant, and Penelope Ann Miller as George's increasingly neglected wife.

The Artist uses its throwback style in delightful and surprising ways (the black-and-white lighting is gorgeously done), Ludovic Bource's score hits all the right emotional notes without ever resorting to mere Mickey Mousing. It's a joyful wonder of a movie.

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