After all the hype, The Artist was a film I almost wanted to dislike, even if it did star Best Frenchman Ever Jean Dujardin and dared to be a black & white silent film at a time when 3D, CGI and superheroes are kind of a given.
I resisted but, like it or not, The Artist is a good film: a very good film, in fact. Not the masterpiece the critics unanimously agreed upon but definitely one to watch. For those who actually do watch old movies on a regular basis this is a tough movie to warm up to at first seeing how shamelessly derivative it is but most will love it instantly.
For a while, frankly I reallycouldn't figure out what was actually original about The Artist in any way...
You've got the plot of Singin' In The Rain, characters straight out of All About Eve, The Red Shoes or Sunset Boulevard and a dog straight out of... Beverly Hills Chihuahua? Seriously, people need to stop raving on about that blasted mutt! Is everyone 5 years old?! I like that he saves his master's life at one point but I wasn't creaming on SIGHT of the bloody thing!
Human-wise, everybody's great: Berenice Bejo is a tad grating at times but does extremely well on the whole, James Cromwell makes a surprisingly lovable side character and John Goodman is appropriately imposing. Why Malcolm McDowell was awoken from his deep slumber for this one scene though will always perplex me I think.
All that said: this is Jean Dujardin's show.
The actor already being a favourite of mine since the 1st OSS 117 movie (Cairo Nest Of Spies), I was already looking forward to seeing the man with the best grin in town on the big screen once again. Needless to say he didn't disappoint. His George Valentin is one likable fellow. A bit of a douche at first, this is a guy so confident and so happy with himself that he can't help but show off. He does give a young actress her start though so we know he's got a good heart I guess. And as cheesy as his movies look: he's a true artist. That is, until the talkies come in and the shit hits the fan. For anyone familiar with old movies of that type, the rest of the story is pretty easy to guess.
It's only right at the end that I kind of lose what Valentin's motives were for not doing talkies in the first place. His one (very French) spoken line: "Wiz plezzure" making it seem like the guy was just afraid of being known as French to Hollywood audiences and his "Nobody wants to see me speak" making it seem like it wasn't so much being an artist as it was blind pride that put him in this mess. And how...
...tap dancing solves everyone's problems I'm still a bit unclear about.
Overall, The Artist is a good film. But a great film? Not quite, I'm afraid. The reason I prefer something like La Antena is because although you're watching a film firmly steeped in a long lost genre there's a genuine feeling that you're watching something fresh, original and new. The Artist works but I found it hard to really love and I sadly can't call it a modern classic. It's just too derivative. In a way it's a bit like an OSS 117-style spoof without the jokes...
So basically a cute, authentic-looking film that's a lot of fun and has a lot of heart but doesn't go beyond being just a nice little distraction.
I liked it but is it the best film of 2011?