Not quite the work of an “Artist”


The Artist

dir. Michel Hazanavicius

Release Date: Dec 23, 11

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Often, I get asked which movies are hardest to review.  As far as genres go, I don’t think that one poses more problems than any other.  I’m not always a fan of reviewing broad comedies, but that’s because Adam Sandler fans aren’t likely to care what I think about his ability to walk in heels.  For me, the hardest thing is reviewing a movie that everyone else loved but you didn’t feel strongly about one way or the other.  I often just want to write “blah” as my entire review and move onto other things, like knitting, trying to read Ulysses again or masturbating.  (Note: If I hated a movie that everyone else loved, that can be fun sometimes, only because hate mail is hilarious.)

But The Artist, this year’s likely Best Picture winner at the Oscars? I don’t know what to tell you about it, and I’ve been putting off writing this review for weeks. Apparently, it drew raves at Cannes, and Anthony Lane of the New Yorker loved it so much he almost showed an emotion. I really wish that I had been watching the film they so adored, and I even brought a big foam finger for the occasion. One hundred minutes later, that was the saddest finger in the world.

Like everyone else in existence, I thought the movie was charming and nice, but the kind of charming and nice you go on one fine date with and never call again. As a silent film lover – I was partially raised by Charlie Chaplin – I would have liked to spend the rest of my life with this film. It’s French, silent, in black and white, features the immensely toothy Jean Dujardin – who I could seriously look at pictures of all day.  What’s not to like?

Well, let’s start with that pacing. The setup for the film is solid enough. The movie deals with a very famous silent film actor, played by Jean Dujardin, who finds himself out of a job when talking pictures arrive. Although Georges Valentin attempts to keep the tradition of silent films alive by directing his own pictures, his directorial debut fails at the box office. Afterwards, the film stops dead in its tracks. Almost nothing will happen for the next half hour or so, a time that the audience spends watching Mr. Dujardin grow facial hair while moping, which is an internet meme waiting to happen.

In the beginning, he has a nice Meet Cute with an aspiring actress, played by the lovely Berenice Bejo, who he happens to Meet Cute again and again. (Apparently in Hollywood, you wouldn’t be able to avoid people, even if you wanted to.) He’s married, but his wife is vaguely unhappy in that way that all movie wives without actual characters are vaguely unhappy. Because the Laws of Screen Time and Movie Attractiveness indicate that Bejo and Dujardin are meant for each other, and the wife will be Bechtel Tested right out of there within twenty minutes.

Luckily, the audience really does want these crazy kids to be together, and we can’t wait for the movie to skip to that part, rather than find silly reasons to keep them apart. The movie finds some partially credible reasons for him to keep being sad about his losing his job and not go pursue the girl, but these did not stop me from wanting to reach through the screen and slap him. Usually, I’m fine with dealing with a protagonist who only incrementally changes – I watch Enlightened, for godsakes – but my patience can only take so much.

Because I’m human and not a total monster, I enjoyed the movie enough for that aspect. (For me, this film is the very definition of a B- review.) In essence, The Artist was a movie that was ostensibly made for me, and I can respect the attempt to pander to my tastes. But if this becomes a total smash, which many are hoping it will, I hope that it begets a bunch of copycat silent homages that I like better. Even though I’m fine with spending a nice evening with someone who likes a lot of the same things I do, I eventually want to settle down one evening with a movie that really gets me.