“The Artist” (2011). Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell, Ed Lauter, Beth Grant, Joel Murray, Uggie. Director: Michel Hazanavicius. Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius. http://weinsteinco.com/sites/the-artist/
All too often, staying put means staying locked in place, a circumstance frequently distinguished by anguish, melancholy and regret. Allowing oneself to evolve, however, usually leads to satisfaction and boundless rewards. Both sides of this particular coin are examined in the new comedy-drama, “The Artist,” a black-and-white silent movie from director Michel Hazanavicius.
In 1927 Hollywood, silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the peak of his career, fabulously successful, adored by his fans and rich. He’s so popular that he’s even influential in helping to launch the acting career of movie extra Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring starlet with whom he has a very public chance encounter. Life is good.
But, over the next two years, George’s life begins to unravel. His wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), is unhappy with the publicity surrounding his public flirtation with Peppy. And then comes word from George’s studio head (John Goodman) that the company plans to pursue the production of talkies, a development that George laughingly dismisses as a passing fad of which he wants no part, a decision that eventually results in his dismissal from the studio. Undeterred by these changes, George presses on with silent movie work, writing, directing and starring in a film of his own. But, given the new talky technology, fans ignore George’s picture in favor of fresh, new fare. And, if the shunning of his film weren’t enough, along comes the October 1929 stock market crash, wiping out George and his production company. His public has largely forgotten him, too, his only friends being his loyal chauffeur/valet Clifton (James Cromwell) and his ever-faithful canine co-star (Uggie).
As George’s star plummets, Peppy’s rises dramatically, becoming Hollywood’s new darling. She could have anything and anyone she wants, but she has a soft spot for George. She witnesses his painful descent into drunkenness, bankruptcy and despair, hoping to help him the way he once helped her. But she can do little to assist her friend and mentor unless he’ll allow it, a decision ultimately dependent on his willingness to evolve both personally and professionally.
It’s been said that the only constant in life is change, and the more we make friends with it, the better off we’ll be in the long run. Such thinking is also one of the cornerstone principles of conscious creation, which maintains that we’re all in a constant state of becoming, ever evolving to something new. The more we embrace this idea – and even try to uncover the underlying beliefs to what we’re evolving into – the less distressing (and more enjoyable) the process will be.
We get ourselves into trouble, however, when we stifle this fundamental impulse. This approach is inherently limiting and can become particularly problematic when we allow ego and pride to hold sway over things. Buying into the belief that whatever we’ve created is the insurmountable pinnacle of manifestation only serves to set ourselves up for needless difficulty. Frustration and stagnation set in and, if left unattended, can facilitate in a wide range of related hardships.
George, unfortunately, allows himself to fall into this trap. By pursuing this path, he winds up materially destitute and artistically drained, left to languish in the memories of faded glory, and all because his foolish pride stands in the way of his creative and metaphysical evolution. Peppy, by contrast, embraces change and reaps great rewards for her decision. She willingly welcomes innovation, and it pays off in big ways. Now if only she can get George to see the wisdom of such thinking.
Following our intuition is the key in such situations, for it generally points the way to discovering our true selves. In many instances, however, we ignore the intuitive messages that come our way, either because they go against the conventional wisdom or seemingly don’t make sense. When these circumstances arise, they represent significant choice points where we can either embrace or disregard the information in question. Obviously, choosing carefully is crucial.
When George’s studio informs him of its decision to pursue the production of talkies, he rejects it out of hand, because it’s something that hasn’t been tried before and goes against traditional thinking. His out-of-hand dismissal, however, costs him dearly. By contrast, when Peppy has her initial encounter with George, under potentially embarrassing circumstances, rather than shy away from the situation, she makes the most of it. It’s a decision that ultimately sets her off on a path to fame, fortune and fulfillment. We should all be so wise.
For their part, the creators of “The Artist” apparently listened to their intuition about the development of this project. Who would have thought that a silent, black-and-white film would stand a chance in today’s demanding movie market? But the decision to go with it has paid off handsomely in terms of critical acclaim and numerous accolades.
Overall, “The Artist” is an amusing little film, cute and clever in many respects, with terrific production values and wonderful performances by Dujardin, Bejo and Goodman, as well as the undeniably adorable pooch. The story is a bit predictable – not unlike the pictures of the era to which it pays homage – but it still might have benefited from a little more originality, especially given the unique nature of the vehicle used for carrying the narrative. The screenplay and editing could have used some tidying up, too, especially in the middle.
While “The Artist” may not be epic filmmaking, it’s enjoyable nevertheless (although for those interested in a picture that pays tribute to the silent movie era, I’d much more readily recommend Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” over this offering). And, despite its shortcomings, the film is cleaning up in the early season awards competitions. Earlier this year, the picture received the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or, the Festival’s highest honor. Since then, it has been showered with nominations in various contests, including six Golden Globe Award nods (best comedy/musical picture, comedy/musical actor, supporting actress, director, score, screenplay), 11 Critics Choice Award nominations (best picture, actor, supporting actress, acting ensemble, director, original screenplay, cinematography, art direction, editing, score, costume design), three Screen Actors Guild Award honors (best ensemble cast, actor, supporting actress) and five Independent Spirit Award nominations (best feature, director, screenplay, male lead, cinematography).
The next time you’re tempted to disregard your intuition or to snooze away in your comfort zone, think of this picture. You might end up reconsidering your decision, and what you reap from your efforts just might leave you … speechless!
Copyright © 2011, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.