A long time ago — probably sometime around or shortly after I started taking film history classes — Mek and I talked about how neat it would be if someone made a new silent movie. Then, in 2011, The Artist came out.
And I was like, “You bastards, that was my idea.”
Potential romance blooms between George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film legend, and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an up-and-coming actress. When talkies take over Hollywood, though, Peppy’s career skyrockets, while George’s career plummets.
1. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are both really quite charming.
Their chemistry with one another and seemingly boundless energy is a big part of why The Artist works as well as it does. Both are just so delightful that you can’t help but root for them, even though George becomes something of a mopey ass and Peppy is kind of a crazy stalker. But, you know. They dance so well together! (Also, they really are kind of perfect for one another. Both are endearing, attractive, and generally seem very pleased with themselves.)
2. But honestly, folks, as much as I like George (and his Spy Face, man, his Spy Face is the best), he does try my patience quite a bit, and ultimately his bitter funk lasts a little too long for me. Which is a problem because George’s inability to adapt to this new, speaking Hollywood is basically what the whole movie’s about, and if you cut that arc too much, well, the story probably wouldn’t be long enough for a feature film. Still, I found it trying, and it unfortunately made me enjoy the movie less.
3. The dog, though. Scratch what I said about Spy Face — the dog is seriously the best.
Missi Pyle has a small part in the movie where she’s upset that she basically gets second billing to the dog. Honestly, I’d probably be annoyed too, but this is easily one of the most adorable, useful puppies that has ever graced the big screen. I want this dog. He’d make me sneeze like crazy, but I want him anyway.
The dog has a pretty decent shot of winning Best Sidekick for this year’s superlatives.
4. The Artist has a very solid supporting cast, though I wish Michel Hazanavicius made more use of certain actors, rather than wasting them with brief and not terribly essential cameos. Malcolm McDowell, for instance, feels a bit random to me, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Missi Pyle, either. But it’s probably Beth Grant who annoys me the most. She’s such a good character actress. Why cast her if you’re going to give her so little to work with?
Still, I enjoyed James Cromwell well enough. And John Goodman? Perfectly cast.
I assume there wasn’t even a list of nominees for the role of Al Zimmer. John Goodman was the list, or ought to have been. His performance is brief but effortless.
5. This won’t be a long review, especially because most everything else I want to talk about includes spoilers. But I did want to say that The Artist is a pretty ambitious film, and while I doubt I would have picked it for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, I do think it was well-crafted, original, and overall pretty enjoyable. (Then again, maybe I would have. I still haven’t seen any of the eight other contenders from that year. Though it’s weird I haven’t watched Hugo yet. I actually want to see Hugo.)
The Artist started out really strong for me. I just wish I liked the rest of it as much as I liked the beginning.
Peppy and George have a few cute moments at the beginning of the movie: running into one another, dancing together for a film, etc. And then Peppy reveals that she is basically a crazy person.
First, Peppy sneaks into George’s empty dressing room. Then she wraps one of George’s jackets around her and pretends to make out with it. George catches her at this, but only seems more charmed. I, on the other hand, would be absolutely horrified. Can you imagine? Walking into what’s supposed to be a private space and finding someone you barely know pretend-macking with your clothes? CREEPY.
As George’s career completely falls apart, Peppy starts following him around, and later has her servants buy everything he owns from an auction. I mean, it’s sorta sweet, since she’s trying to keep the guy from starving to death and all, but yeah. It’s a little weird. And after that, she gets the hospital to release him into her care, presumably without his permission. I’m just saying. Mad stalking is happening in this movie.
Again, though, George isn’t terribly bothered by any of this. (Well, he’s bothered by the auction thing, but only because of his pride, not because he thinks Peppy’s actions have shown signs of a disturbed mind.) Of course, he also isn’t bothered by the fact that he’s married, at least at the beginning of the film.
Their marriage has clearly been rocky for some time, but at one point Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) makes some effort to talk to George, and he just won’t do it. Unlike Peppy, Doris doesn’t seem to be the most naturally delightful person, so I feel like we’re supposed to assume she’s a shrew George is better off without, just like we’re supposed to assume Constance (Missi Pile) is this terrible mega-bitch. But I’m not sure there’s much evidence to support either. I’d leave George’s ass too, if he treated me like that, and seriously, cute as that puppy is, it’s not unreasonable for a leading lady to expect to be ranked as slightly more important than a dog.
So, yeah, I lost a lot of sympathy for George pretty quickly. I do feel sorry for the actors who were left behind in the transition to talkies, and I’m sure George is accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle, but at some point, if you’re incapable or unwilling to adapt to the changes in your industry, you’ve got to just go and find another job. It completely and heartily sucks, but sometimes, them’s the breaks, and as far as I can tell, George never even attempts to find work doing anything else. He just sits in his rundown apartment and tries to drink himself to death. If he was at least trying to create something, I could probably dredge up a bit of sympathy, but he just spends years feeling sorry for himself, and my streak of pragmatism runs a bit too deep to feel much pity for tortured artists who don’t try to help themselves.
Like I said, the movie isn’t particularly long, but George’s angst seemed drawn out to me. I almost wish that the dream sequence in The Artist hadn’t been a dream sequence at all.
It’s a pretty awesome scene, actually, probably my favorite in the whole movie. George knocks some stuff over and suddenly he (and you) can hear the sound those objects make when they fall. But he has no voice himself; he’s suddenly the only person in the whole world who has no voice. And, surprisingly, it took me a minute to realize that he was dreaming.
I understand this isn’t where the movie ever intended to go. But I’ll admit, in that moment, when I thought The Artist was suddenly taking a sharp, surreal bent? I was pretty excited. I’d definitely have paid to see that movie. Still would, honestly.
Instead, George wakes up and poorly grapples with the realities of his life, until he reaches (what I assumed was) rock bottom; he drunkenly sets all his old movies on fire and, quite naturally, sets his whole place on fire too. The only reason George is alive is because his adorable dog actually fetches a policeman, like a much cuter version of Lassie.
I did not, ultimately, give MVP to the dog, but I want you to know that I considered it.
Crazy Stalker Peppy hears about the fire, of course, and has the hospital usher his unconscious ass over to her house for bed rest and recuperation. (Because this is a thing that happens? Er, maybe in the 1930’s, when everyone was crazy.) She also forces John Goodman to let George back into showbiz. (That part was genuinely funny. “Hey, I’m blackmailing you. Get it?”)
Unfortunately, George has found out about the auction, and his bullshit pride can’t take the blow, so he goes to his burnt shell of an apartment to shoot himself in the head. Peppy, presumably remembering the movie where George tragically died in quicksand (yelling, “I never loved you!” which totally cracked Mekaela and me up) realizes his terrible plan and goes to stop him.
In the alternate, tragic version of this story, Peppy does not stop George from committing suicide because she runs over at least two small children on the way there, as she apparently doesn’t know how to drive, nor cares to put much effort into her first attempt. In the actual movie, though, she obviously saves him, and the two go back to work on a musical. The dance number is pretty awesome, and we get to hear George’s voice (though never Peppy’s, sadly) for the first time before the film ends.
Even though I knew The Artist was a French movie and Jean Dujardin a French actor, I found myself a bit surprised at hearing his accent so suddenly. Funny what tricks the mind likes to play on you.
It’s cute and clever, but I don’t absolutely love it like I wanted to, mostly because I want to shake George around for at least half the movie. On the other hand, the fact that I like him and Peppy at all is a testament to their talent and chemistry.
Jean Dujardin, I think. I’m not sure, though. I feel like his role requires a little more than Bérénice Bejo’s, but honestly, I was this close to picking her. She’s pretty adorable.
Pride comes before the fall. It’s cool, though, if you’ve got an attractive stalker to pick your morose ass up again. If that’s the case, you’ll be fine.