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With: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Joel Murray, Bitsie Tulloch, Ken Davitian, Malcolm McDowell, Basil Hoffman, Bill Fagerbakke, Nina Siemaszko
Written by: Michel Hazanavicius
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/15/2011

The Artist (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Tread Silence

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist is presented as an almost completely silent movie, with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, in black-and-white, and dialogue intertitles. Though this isn't a new idea -- the delightful Claire (2001) is another modern silent movie -- and though it does have some heavy drawbacks, The Artist is lightweight fun for those of us who love silent-era movies, and will likewise probably please those who like simple entertainments.

Jean Dujardin, who, I'm told, doesn't speak a word of English, stars as George Valentin, a Douglas Fairbanks-like star. The movie opens on his latest premiere, where the audience breathlessly watches his antics onscreen. When the movie ends, George awaits their applause, and in a miraculous moment, he hears it, even though we can't. The rest of the plot somewhat echoes Singin' in the Rain and various other showbiz movies; George discovers a cute new starlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and when the talkies arrive in 1929, her star rises while George's star falls. He bets everything he has on one last silent epic, but it opens on the day of the big Wall Street crash. A lot of moping follows, until finally the stubborn George accepts Peppy's help and they star in a musical together.

But whereas Singin' in the Rain had some profound things to say about the nature of art in entertainment, The Artist doesn't burrow very deep. Indeed, anyone who sees this as their first and only example of silent cinema will believe that the entire era was devoted to silly trifles, when, in fact, many artistic masterpieces were produced during that time. American and English actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, and Joel Murray also appear, and many don't say a word.

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