Trying out a new column idea. Enjoy.
So with the Oscars just around the corner, The Artist has become the juggernaut and frontrunner for the Best Picture award. Audiences and critics hail it as the ultimate introspective look at the silent film industry in ever. Let's be perfectly honest: it is not. Now that I've had some time to fully evaluate the movie, I can safely say that The Artist has absolutely nothing to say about anything. It's devoid of meaning or thematic weight. It's a gimmick.
This doesn't make the film bad, just shallow. The alleged break down of the silent film industry is barely a subplot. This new technology is presented to the actor, he thinks it's silly, he gets scared it'll put him out of a job, it happens, he gets put out of a job, he gets sad. That's it. That's the extent of how deeply the film looks into the issue. Singing In the Rain had more to say on this in the first act than this entire movie does. It mostly gets pushed off to the side for a vague love story. Yeah, let's talk about that.
This film is not a love story. For that to be possible, we need two fully formed characters who share a connection. We have a two dimensional goofball and a manic pixie dream girl stereotype instead. And their supposed connection? Just some shots of them looking lovingly into each other's eyes while the music swells. Sorry but just being famous is NOT justification for love. But you know, this movie isn't even about that.
At it's core, The Artist is about pride. George Valentin's (I will admit, that is a great name) pride is what ultimately leads to his downfall until his guardian angle/love interest makes an appearance. This could have been a really solid backbone for the story. It's not because Valentin's pride is completely self-inflicted and we don't learn about what it is keeping him out of sound based films until the literal last seconds of the movie. I cannot get invested in a character with a struggle I don't know about. Maybe this was an intent on the filmmakers' part to keep the tone light. It's also made the film incredibly insubstantial.
WARNING. SPOILER COMING UP: Then there's the "big scene". So upon discovering that Miller has been hoarding all his old memorabilia, Valentin is disturbed (I don't really know why) and returns to his burnt house where he grabs his gun and attempts to kill himself with the sound card BANG transitioning to Miller's car crashing as she attempts to save him. It's a clever build-up and well shot. Unfortunately, it holds no serious weight because the characters' motivations don't really make sense. Miller is going to save him because she loves him. Why does she love him besides the fact that she was his biggest fangirl? Wish I could say but I don't know because that's all we're given. Why is Valentin deeply shaken by Miller collecting his old stuff? At first it seems to suggest that she is actually a stalker. That would have been surprising, interesting and a unique twist to justify her character. But then she shows up and he looks ecstatic to see her. Guess that brief flirtation with relevance is over. So all we're left with is a neat scene that basically ONLY works as a stand alone scene and the music is left to provide all the emotional intensity. SPOILERS OVER.
When I first saw this movie, I liked it. I thought it was cute and moved at a good pace. Now that I've had time to mull it over, this film is visually pleasing but just does not work as a coherent narrative. It's entertaining but it's also insipid and ultimately meaningless. The sad thing is it's being billed as the "film for film lovers" when it's not. Despite it's broken plot, Hugo is a film for film lovers. That film has a clear and concise message about the preservation of film that gets to the core of why people watch movies. It's flawed but at least it has something to say. The Artist is about as thematically relevant as Hobo With a Shotgun. Dead serious.