"It was cute." This was the only thing I could come up with after my filmgoing companion asked what I thought of The Artist last week. Believe me, I tried to come up with other adjectives, as "cute" is not something I'm normally comfortable with in the movies I watch, but words absolutely failed me this go-around. And I'm not exactly sure why because it's not as if I hated anything about The Artist. The whole thing is so lovingly created with such a keen eye for the mechanics of silent movies. From the obvious things to the cinematography to the subtle things like the title cards and the casting, Michel Hazanavicius understands how silent movies, particularly ones of the commercial nature that The Artist is paying tribute to, move and feel. It may not sound like much, but it's an incredibly hard feat to pull off. I'm particularly impressed with the casting of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as the two leads. It would have been easy for Hazanavicius to cast two French stars, say Louis Garrel and Eva Green, with international name recognition. Instead, he chose two actors who may not be as popular but would be far easier to see in a silent film circa 1927. The leading men of the silent screen were, more or less, not the pretty boys we see today. Pattinson, Lautner and Efron never would have been as big as they are today. The rugged, dashing, masculine, slightly older Dujardin, however, is the perfect fit for the Male Star archetype in 1927 Hollywood cinema. Bejo, so utterly charming, spunky and full of life, particularly in her early scenes, is the It Girl of silent cinema (Much in the same way many people will tell you that Michelle Williams is Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. But I digress).
At some point, however, all the technical proficiency and attention to detail in the world cannot hide the content of a film. I don't have a problem with the lightness of The Artist. In a way, it's actually refreshing that a lighthearted romp such as this is earning critical accolades and deafening Oscar buzz. It gives me faith that people still understand that good films aren't necessarily the ones that are either the most serious or feel the most "important." But The Artist does not offer much beyond its nostalgic feelings. Not to diminish the technical accomplishments of the film, but what does The Artist bring to the table that many fun, frivolous, high quality commercial silent films from MGM in their heyday didn't already? The Artist is fantastic if you have never seen a silent movie before, or if you thought that all silent films were as deadly serious as The Birth of a Nation or "highfalutin" as Potemkin, Greed or Metropolis. But to those of us who have already taken an interest in the silent era, it is more of an homage than a revelation. In the grand scheme of things, The Artist, although there's nothing explicitly bad about it, is more of a paint by numbers than an original painting. B