The Artist, Michel Hazanaviscius’ new silent film about an actor struggling to adapt to talkies (movies with sound), is a solid effort, but not worthy of all the awards and praise that it has been getting. The novelty of watching a silent film about the death of the silent film is clever, but it’s only that. The acting, particularly the performances of Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, is fantastic, but the story is slight and fluffy.
It’s a story we’ve seen a hundred times: a man’s pride gets in the way of success, joy, love, and peace. It’s a simple premise, but one that humans continually deal with. We want to be accepted and loved for who we are and we are afraid to change to do that, so we put on masks to put on a good front and to hide what is truly going on inside of ourselves.
George Valentin, the highly successful silent film star, has put all of his identity in ‘silent film star’. He can’t see himself as anything else. That’s who he is, even in his personal life. He puts on a show for his wife at the breakfast table to win her forgiveness instead of dealing with the problem head on. He has a larger than life portrait of himself in the lobby of his home. He has decided that his mask is that of silent film star, so when that goes away, he has no way of coping with the rest of life. He doesn’t know who he is and he has nothing left.
There are three extraordinary characters in this film that stand by George no matter what. They all portray a deep loyalty and without this loyalty, George would be dead. They revive him both literally and figuratively. Peppy Miller, the first star of talking pictures, continually looks after George and she is forever grateful to him for what he did for her at the start of her career. She knows who he is and who he could be. Clifton, George’s driver, stands by him and wants to see him succeed. He spends a year working without getting paid, just out of loyalty. George’s dog, the real star of the film, will stop at nothing to protect and care for him. It’s the dog that demonstrates a loyalty and support that is needed to sustain George through the dark times.
This story about a likeable persona on top of an unlikeable man, failed to rise above the, “I’m making a silent film about silent film and it’s 2011” gimmick most of the time. When it does rise above it – particularly in the scenes involving the dog and when it deals with pride and masking – it shines. It hits home the point that Jesus made when he told the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It takes a physicality that is rarely seen in film today to pull off a role like that of George Valentin. It’s an impressive performance and should be lauded, but the film doesn’t really rise above the strength of the performances. The screenplay, nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, is slight and fluffy; clever at best. It’s a fun premise, but one that only holds up when the fun is actually stripped away to its core revealing a broken man trying to deal with his own short comings and a man that is not able to adapt to a changing world around him without help from a few loyal friends.
 Luke 9:14b NIV