Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is It Me, Or Is Everyone A Little Too Easy to Please?

The best reviewed film of 2011 is "The Artist," a French movie about Hollywood during the turnover from silent films to talkies. The film itself is mostly silent, (more on what that means in a moment). The film has been wowing audiences at film festivals and picking up awards all over the globe. It was nominated for, but did not win, the Palm d'Or at Cannes, but it did just win three Golden Globes, including Best Film, Musical or Comedy. Critics, (97% fawning according to Rotten Tomatoes) are using words like "joyful," "mesmerizing," and "stunning." I'd use words like "fun," "interesting," and "adequate."

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. Not as much as when it was called "Singing in the Rain," but I did enjoy it.

The star, Frenchman Jean Dujardin, is even more handsome and charming than the stars upon whom he is based; he's Douglas Fairbanks, Maurice Chevalier, Gene Kelly, and Rudolph Valentino all rolled into one, and he carries the film. I think it's his magnetic smile, hugely expressive face, and intoxicating performance that has so fooled audiences into thinking they're seeing a complete film.

Dujardin deserves his Golden Globe and the other awards he's been winning, and he'll deserve his Oscar nomination that is going to be forthcoming. He might even deserve to win. And I suspect he will.

But while Dujardin's performance is electric, the rest of the film is somewhat incomplete.

I have to be careful here – I already loathed another film that people have been falling all over themselves this season calling it an instant classic. I also can't use the Emperor's New Clothes analogy – I used it on Scorsese's "Hugo." Actually, that kind of criticism is too harsh here. "Hugo" made me violently angry, "The Artist" just disappointed me – a victim of its own critical success – being overhyped the way it has been.

The fact that the film is almost completely silent is an almost completely clever homage to the films of the day. What does everyone mean "mostly silent?" Well, there are two brief sequences in the film where we do hear sound, and director Michel Hazanavicius has chosen them well. (Sorry, I don't do spoilers, even in films I'm not crazy about. You'll have to take my word for it that the sequences work and are fun.)

Gosh that's a great idea – making a silent movie about making silent movies but using a little bit of sound. Where have I seen that before? Oh right, Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie." While several reviewers have mentioned "Singing in the Rain," nobody has given a nod to Brooks' brilliant effort.

One of the things reviewers seem to like most about the film is that it is an homage to silent films, and being silent is a part of that. Well, here's the problem. Most silent films don't hold up today. The characters are one-dimensional, the stories are so simple you could write out the plot on just a few title cards, and the dramatic tension is usually limited to a woman being tied to railway tracks. The films are, in a word, hokey.

I mean no disrespect to the films of the day. They were experimental and ground-breaking; they paved the way for all the great films that have come since, and the films yet to be. We couldn't have the medium today without the work they did then, but that doesn't mean what they did then, works today.

It's kind of like how medicine has evolved over the years. We couldn't have the miracle of blood transfusions today had it not been for the leechings of yesteryear. But if your doctor told you he wanted to drain some of your bad blood to cure you, would you think his treatment was a charming homage to 17th Century doctors, or would you call the authorities?

If anything, "The Artist" is too true to the films of the late 20s that it is about. The characters are extremely one-dimensional and they go on a journey only of time. Their character arcs are not arcs at all, but rather flat lines. As a result, the film is a little boring, and it drags in the middle as a result. And that is the problem I had with the film. No character growth – for better or for worse. And that's not a best picture, not in my book.

I'm not saying you shouldn't see, "The Artist." I enjoyed it, and it is a cleverly crafted and well-acted film. All I'm saying is, everyone needs to calm down with the hoopla about this being The. Best. Film. About Films. Of All Time. As "Singing in the Rain's" Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) would say, "It ain't."

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