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Let’s get real, Oscar prognosticators: The Artist is a confection. It’s a novel confection, yes, a silent black-and-white movie in an increasingly noisy Avatar world. But awarding it a Best Picture statuette would be a Shakespeare in Love-size mistake.
Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’ throwback film tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a handsome 1920s screen actor whose popularity abruptly fades following the advent of talkies. Worse, a young dancer named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who was an extra in one of his films, rides the sound wave to superstardom, eventually signing with the studio that abandoned George when he refused to let his voice be heard. When he decides to write, produce, and direct his own silent film, it’s crushed by one of Peppy’s openings, and his downward spiral deepens.
Dujardin and Bejo are marvelous onscreen, both with looks that blend in perfectly with the bygone era being captured—-he with a pencil-thin mustache and eyebrows that reach for the ceiling, she with a high-watt smile and physicality so expressive she can flirt with her elbows. Their characters’ attraction is palpable and joyous, which in turn lends the film a genuine gleefulness seldom seen in modern cinema. (An unconsummated romance with no giant lies or misunderstandings that keep the couple apart—-how refreshing!) Also strong in his supporting role as George’s driver is James Cromwell, who is especially affecting after George can’t afford him anymore. But the best actor here may be Uggy the dog, a terrier who’s terrifically charming (and astoundingly well-trained) as George’s true best friend.
It’s inarguable that you’ll leave The Artist with a spring in your step and a grin on your face. And its achievement in delivering such an engrossing and invigorating story with only a handful of title cards and a lot of good acting is also undeniable. But it takes more than originality to turn a solid film into a great one, and The Artist falls just short.