Monday, July 2, 2012

How Did A Rip-Off Of Singin’ In The Rain Win Best Picture?!

The Good: Well-shot, Moments of performance, Generally good story
The Bad: Hammy overacting by the leads, Familiar story, Characters that it is virtually impossible to empathize with, Repetitive
The Basics: The Artist is another great example of a year the Best Picture Oscar winner was, truly, not the best film of the year as a (mostly) silent film tells the story of the end of the silent movie era.

Ever since I started making a concerted effort to watch and review every film that won the Best Picture Oscar, I have been loath to review a film simply because it won the Best Picture. Such reviews usually devolve into a diatribe about why the movie deserved to win or, more commonly, why it should not have won. It’s taken me until now to muster up the enthusiasm to watch the latest Best Picture winner. I knew Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes did not have a chance for even a nomination (which is too bad, it was one of the best films of 2011), but either Inception (which at least was nominated the year before!) or The Help embodied more of what I expect from a Best Picture winner than what little I knew about The Artist.

The Artist is a gimmick movie. Writer and director Michel Hazanavicius created a black and white, (mostly) silent film and passed it off as an incredible piece of work. The only surprise for me with The Artist is that no one else seems to be making the argument that Hazanavicius’s film is painfully derivative. As I have very often said, if you are going to steal, don’t steal from the classics! Within ten minutes of the opening of The Artist, I had the distinct feeling I had seen the film before. And I have. It’s Singin’ In The Rain!

Seriously. If you remove the color and strip away the music, The Artist is just a cheap knock-off of Singin’ In The Rain (reviewed here!). Barely more complicated than that, The Artist is particularly charmless and seems to be so short on its own idea that its themes (both in content and musical) get repeated so often that one would have to be pretty much braindead to not understand what George Valentin is going through. Moreover, in today’s current economic climate, The Artist seems to be even more of an elitist endeavor; people have to change careers or adapt their career on a daily basis lest they (literally) starve. George Valentin’s struggle to adapt to the “talking pictures” seems a ridiculous fight the longer The Artist progresses. It is easier to be sympathetic to Bill Murray’s vaudevillian character in Cradle Will Rock (reviewed here!); at least he had layers!

The Artist follows George Valentin, celebrity of the silent movie serials. In 1927, he is the talk of Hollywood and the biggest thing in movies. Following one of his movie premieres, dancer Peppy Miller literally stumbles into stardom by knocking into George and, despite the tension it causes between George and his wife, she becomes a leading lady opposite him in a string of highly-successful movies. Change comes when the studio wants to do talking pictures and Peppy eagerly adapts. But George wants nothing to do with the talking pictures and when one of his projects and one of Peppy’s films go head to head, hers is a success and his flops, leaving him bankrupt. Over the years that follow, George spirals down into depression, losing everything, until his dog saves him from his own attempt to burn down his house and a subsequent suicide attempt foiled by Peppy. In the aftermath, Peppy lays her own career on the line for George.

The novelty of a black and white picture seems particularly cheesy in the high-definition age. Did director Michel Hazanavicius think viewers would not buy into the reality of the late 1920s, early 1930s if it was in color?! The sound editing makes a bit more sense – before the final moments of the film, there is a nightmare scene that is rich with sound effects and the score is one that embodies the sound and feel of early movies. The combination of making a silent movie and making it black and white feels gimmicky.

None of the characters popped. George Valentin is self-obsessed and after he loses his celebrity, he is utterly boring. Charisma does not just die, but in The Artist, it does with Valentin. Similarly, Peppy Miller is cute, but her role serves little other than to promote the perception that great dancers make for great actors and given how monolithic her performance is, she seems only to have her celebrity from her association with Valentin for her start. She has no real “hook” outside that and it is implausible that she would be anything other than a “flavor of the month” without him.

That said, it is easy to empathize with Clifton, George’s (and later Peppy’s) chauffeur. He has nothing to do but wait on George and when George sinks into depression and his brand of poverty, Clifton’s is the last loyalty he loses.

On the acting front, The Artist is a pageant of overacting. Unlike how sound is used at key moments in The Artist, the acting is homogeneously hammy overacting. That is to say, it makes sense for Jean Dujardin to flail about and over-utilize his facial expressions and sense of movement when his character George is in full celebrity mode or acting on set in the movies within the movie. But that during the deeply personal moments he retains the goofy performance style makes it impossible to take the big dramatic moments of the film seriously.

Similarly, Bernice Bejo seems to hit the same note over and over again. Playing more off her simple good looks, Bejo might make Peppy dance incredibly well, but she fails to make her interesting or distinctive in any real way. Even familiar stalwarts like John Goodman and James Cromwell (producer/director Al Zimmer and Clifton, respectively) do not give performances that could be defined as even “noteworthy.”

Now on DVD and Blu-Ray, The Artist comes with bonus features that, given how disappointed I was with the primary feature, I could not be bothered to check out. The Artist was, quite simply, that unimpressive.

For other works with Beth Grant, be sure to check out my reviews of:
No Country For Old Men
Southland Tales
Matchstick Men
Donnie Darko

[As the winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is included in my Best Picture Project! Be sure to check that out for an organized listing of reviews of EVERY Best Picture Oscar winner!]


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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