I just saw the much-praised movie "The Artist" with my wife and daughter, and I am wondering what all the hype was about. It's a movie with a simple story which could have been well-told in half an hour, and its much-ballyhooed "gimmick" -- that it's a silent movie in black and white, made in 2011 -- turns out to be a long-winded setup for an incredibly lame punchline. Want to know what it is?
Okay, here's a big spoiler… don't look if you don't want to know!
(I'll add a bunch of spaces here, to make it easier to avoid.)
The entire movie is in black and white so that at the very end of it, in a short, inexplicably NON-silent sequence, it can be revealed that the male lead…
… has a very thick French accent.
Okay, maybe I should mention what the movie is about. It's set in the period during which silent movies transitioned into "talking movies", with the attendant rise and fall of the careers of those people who blossomed in the new technology, and those whose skill sets didn't translate from silent to sound successfully. It's a fascinating bit of movie history, and it COULD have been the basic for a really interesting movie. I suppose it still could be. Sadly, "The Artist" is not that movie.
The main character is a dashing, extremely popular leading man of the silent movies, who befriends an aspiring young actress. As her star rises in the beginnings of the transition to "talkies", his falls… and he goes through various stages of denial, depression, failed attempts to prove that his silent roles are still viable, and ultimately attempts suicide. All during this time, the viewer wonders -- why is he falling apart? Why doesn't he at least TRY to get on the talkie bandwagon? He's a charismatic actor, handsome, athletic, and -- at least up until that point, when talkies take over -- wildly poplar. What's the problem?
Having seen "Singing in the Rain" (a large part of the plot of which deals with this aspect of film history) many times, I was starting to get the feeling that maybe he, like Lina Lamont in "Singing in the Rain", had some kind of weird, horrible, obnoxious, repulsive voice. And according to the makers of this movie, he does.
He sounds like a French guy.
Now, this movie is not without its charm. There is a wonderful dog. There are some occasional clever bits with the interplay of the visuals with the dialogue and sound effects cards typical of the silent movie genre. (I especially liked the one which was structured around a car crashing and a gun going off… if you see the movie, you'll know what I am referring to.) There are some very good performances, especially the lead actor, and James Cromwell as his chauffeur, though I thought John Goodman stood out like a sore thumb -- he just didn't seem like be belonged in this period piece.
But… the fact that the entire movie is just a setup for a weak audio gag is… well, for my money, pretty pathetic.
And once you've watched the movie to that point, you realize that the only reason it HAS been silent (something VERY unusual in this day and age, and one of the "hooks" this film has used to draw people in) is to serve this silly joke. I found it extremely disappointing.
It would be great if someone took the time and used some creativity to do a story about this key era in the evolution of the movie industry. If that's a subject which interests you, just watch "Singing in the Rain"... and avoid "The Artist". -- PL