Review of ‘The Artist’
Hasn’t it been annoying hearing pretentious film snobs talk about how amazing The Artist is over the last couple of months? ‘Oh, you need dialogue to be able to follow a film?’ they ask smugly, disgusted by your unrefined taste in movies. ‘Not Jerry Bruckheimer enough for you?’ they add, lighting their hand-rolled cigarette and adjusting their thick-rimmed glasses that they don’t actually like but wear because they’re an extension of their carefully crafted and contrived personality. I know I was sick of it, so sadly I put off actually watching the film for a while. But, I finally went to see it tonight, and let me set the record straight – The Artist is….amazing.
In the interest of full disclosure, I studied film in college, but I try my best not to be a snob. The rims of my glasses are of below-average thickness, I use scarves for warmth and not as a means of making people think I only watch movies with subtitles, and one of my favorite movies is and always will be Dirty Work starring Norm Macdonald and directed by Bob Saget. Every once in a while, however, the snobs get it right. The Artist is a good example of this.
The Artist has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the acting. A silent film only works when you forget that the actors aren’t actually speaking, and Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin pull this off brilliantly. There really is a reason people say ‘oh well they’ll win best actor and actress just because they were in an artsy silent film.’ Next time you watch a movie starring Matthew Mcconaughey, turn down the volume and see if you can guess what his character is feeling at the time. Sure, you might be able to discern emotions like ‘angry’ and ‘happy’ (and ‘stupid’), but how about ‘insecure’? Or how about ‘why do you care more about your career than you do about me’? These are things that come through in The Artist even though they’re never explicitly said. It’s a much needed reminder that nuanced acting isn’t just a thing of the past.
This is also thanks in part to strong writing. You might think it’s easier to write a film without dialogue, but it isn’t. You still have to write the dialogue and story in the script, but you have to find more creative ways of conveying it. The Artist doesn’t slack in this department. (Spoiler alert…sort of) For instance, there is a long shot where Bejo and Dujardin meet on the stairs of a building where she is on her way up and he is on his way down. It is a beautiful metaphor for where their careers and lives are heading at the time, and that five second shot speaks volumes about the characters, their relationship, and how their stories are changing without saying a word. One of several examples of great visual storytelling.
Overall, I think the best thing about the movie is its tone. The Artists is a film that is in on its own joke, an homage that at times feels like a spoof, but never goes too far. It’s as if the Silent Film Genre is a character in-and-of itself. It feels alive and aware of how things have changed, like when William Shatner mocks his own style of acting. And in the end, The Artist is a superbly tasteful work; respectful enough to the genre to be a really great movie, yet light-hearted enough to keep it from being pretentious. Go see it, you’ll have fun.