‘The Artist’: Charming silent film may make noise at Oscars

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Tuesday, November 22, 2011 8:22am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

A silent movie, in black and white, with a pair of lead actors unknown to U.S. audiences? Yes, this accurately describes “The Artist.”

One other detail: This movie happens to be an anointed front-runner in the Oscar race, despite its apparent uphill battle.

I’m not sure about significant Oscar triumphs, but “The Artist” is certainly a warm, audience-friendly movie, assuming said audience will sit still for a picture without dialogue.

It’s the brainchild of director Michel Hazanavicius and actor Jean Dujardin, who previously collaborated on the uproarious “OSS 117” spy spoofs in their native France.

In “The Artist,” Dujardin plays the lead role, an incorrigibly hammy movie star of the silent era named George Valentin. A breezy performer out of the Douglas Fairbanks mold, Valentin finds his popularity shaken when sound pictures come in.

At his peak, he befriends a spunky nobody, a big-eyed gamine named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). In true “Star is Born” fashion, his fame declines while her career begins to rise, setting the stage for a poignant final act that seems to come right out of a silent-era melodrama.

The whole film is straightforward, almost to a fault: Hazanavicius traces a predictable storyline, and the ups and downs feel pre-ordained.

The novelty, of course, comes in the fun of watching how all this is worked out as a silent movie (though not really silent at all, given Ludovic Bourse’s hard-working musical score). The movie’s full of little visual gags that lift up individual scenes, including a dog that proves just as big a ham as his master.

Jean Dujardin is the movie’s main source of delight. Born with a movie star’s quick grin, which is crowned here with a dapper 1920s mustache, Dujardin has the kind of expressive face that would’ve served him very well in the silent era (many of his biggest laughs in the “OSS 117” films, in which he played the world’s most idiotic Cold War spy, came purely from his blissfully clueless facial expressions).

He also shows off some quick-footed dancing skills, another of the film’s unexpected pleasures. Although Berenice Bejo comes across charmingly, and there are other actors filling out the supporting roles (John Goodman and Penelope Ann Miller included), Dujardin’s star turn carries the movie.

Is “The Artist” really an Oscar contender? It came up short on that score for me. But don’t be shocked if Jean Dujardin steps up to a few podiums during awards season: He’s that good.

“The Artist” (3 stars)

A black-and-white movie rendered as a throwback to the silent era, this audience-friendly picture paints a well-worn tale of a famous movie star (Jean Dujardin) whose career wobbles when sound comes to movies in the 1920s. The story is old, but Dujardin’s star turn is a delight to watch, and director Michel Hazanavicius invents enough gags to put it over.

Rated: PG-13 for subject matter.

Showing: Call theater for show times; theater list on Page E2.

Talk to us

More in Life

Photos by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times 

The Jacob and Sarah Ebey House will open to public visitors Memorial Day weekend.
A landmark steeped in 19th century history reopens on Whidbey

Beginning May 28, you can venture inside one of the state’s oldest buildings: The Jacob and Sarah Ebey House, which dates from the 1850s.

Caption: Incorporating frozen vegetables into your menu plan is a fast and cost-effective way to save money on rising food costs.
The secrets of cheap meals: frozen veggies and slow cookers

They not only stretch your food budget, but also timesaving godsends for busy parents. Here are three recipes to try.

Cinderella_Red.jpg: Red Riding Hood (Katelynn Carlson) gets advice from Cinderella (Grace Helmcke) in Red Curtain’s production of Into the Woods, running May 20-June 5 at the Red Curtain Arts Center, 9315 State Ave. in Marysville.
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Marysville troupe stages a Stephen Sondheim musical masterpiece. Jazz, featuring the sons of legend Dave Brubeck, takes over Edmonds. And there’s this music festival in downtown Everett …

Navigating the rough, often scary seas of a hospital stay

After helping a friend who underwent major surgery, Paul Schoenfeld reflects on ways to cope for patients and their loved ones.

Sam Bowles records the run off the water from a chalk drawing with friend and co-artist, Rhyanna Mercer, Tuesday afternoon in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jackson High’s global TikTok star is chalk full of ideas

Sam Bowles, 18, uses vibrant videos and social media fame to raise awareness of autism.

I canceled my flight to Frankfurt, but now I can’t use my credit

Melissa Crespo receives a $2,060 ticket credit when she cancels her flights to Frankfurt, Germany. But now her online agency has told her she can only use 25% of the credit at a time. Can it do that?

Lonicera ciliosa, commonly called orange honeysuckle or western trumpet vine. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: orange honeysuckle

Its orange trumpets announce spring is here, and hummingbirds are irresistibly drawn to it.

Home & garden happenings in Snohomish County

The Mill Creek Garden Tour will return this summer after a two-year absence due to COVID-19.

Photo Caption: Would you believe a zipper sold for $18,450 at Morphy Auctions? What about a diamond necklace that looks and works like a zipper?
X-Y-Z spells ‘big money’ with this high-fashion zipper

It’s actually a necklace, but the zipper function works. Someone paid nearly $18,500 for it at a recent auction.

Most Read