Taking place in Hollywood during the period of the years 1927 to 1932, silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is relishing in his success as a superstar of the genre. However, the movie industry decides to make the transition to producing talkies, which soon begin to take a heavy toll on his stardom. On the other hand, this switch opens the door for young extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who quickly begins rising as one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood. The film ends up transitioning both of their stories to explore both the demise of one genre and the rise of another.
French actor Jean Dujardin does a phenomenal job as George Valentin. A demanding performance like this relies heavily on charm, charisma and facial expressions, and Dujardin knocks it out of the park. In addition, Dujardin furthers the realism of his performance by transforming himself into a person that looks like they were ripped right out of the silent film era, which is mostly due to his pencil thin mustache, and constant wearing of tuxedos.
Alongside Dujardin, Berenice Bejo delivers a lighthearted, free-spirited performance of equal award-worthy caliber as Peppy Miller. She displays sizzling chemistry with Dujardin, which creates a relationship between their characters that is very sweet and emotionally touching throughout the film.
For me though, the surprising scene stealer of this film was Uggie, the nine year old Jack Russell Terrier that serves as George’s devoted companion. Full of energy and serious devotion to his down-on-his-luck owner, Uggie entertained me to death with his spot-on comedic timing with Dujardin, but also shines in conveying the emotional owner-canine relationship, too. His performance has received such high praise, that an Oscar campaign on Facebook has been established for him, in addition to a Twitter account in his name. Now he’s the most famous non-human on social networking sites since the once missing Brooklyn Zoo cobra!
Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius delivers a beautiful portrait of the Golden Age in Hollywood from the late 1920s to early 30s, even with a black and white color palette. His script follows the conventions of the silent era, but also pays terrific homage to the first few decades of film in the 1900s. Additionally, his direction shines in several scenes, especially a carefully constructed, yet extremely surreal sequence involving a nightmare George has where many different types of sound surround him to a point where he reaches insanity.
The score is also quite noteworthy, which is actually quite vital to keeping you entertained given that this film has no dialogue. Composed of classic instruments from the time period the film’s set in, it perfectly matches the tone of each scene, whether it’s the vibrant, enthusiastic pieces in the beginning of the film, or the sadder scenes where George’s downward spiral worsens to darker degrees. Also, a shout-out to Alfred Hitchcock aficionados, because there is a strong chance that you’ll recognize a famous score piece from one of his most highly acclaimed classics at some point in this film.To pull off a silent film is quite bold during an era that’s being dominated by 3D, explosions and unnecessary sequels, but “The Artist” is a stunning, crowd pleasing tribute to one of cinema’s greatest genres. It’s one of those films that will leave a huge smile on your face when you walk out of the theater because of its immense entertainment value and heartfelt drama. Whether or not you’re a fan of the silent film genre, “The Artist” demands to be seen as an experience that’s newer than any other film released in the past decade.
Final Grade: A