"The Artist" is a refreshingly unique movie, and it is likely to win the Oscar for best picture of the year.
First and foremost, it is a silent film, with the background music helping to tell much of the story. It is also quite funny, and easy to follow, even though many lines of dialogue are implied and aren't written down on the screen for viewers to read.
The movie is set in the late 1920s, as silent film star George Valentin is making popular action movies - he is the Brad Pitt and George Clooney of his era, with his charm and hammy over-acting needed for silent pictures. Valentin has a chance meeting outside a movie premiere with a young aspiring actress, Peppy Miller. Shortly after that meeting, Peppy lands a small role in Valentin's next film. As Valentin and Miller film a scene together, they develop instant chemistry.
Over the course of the next few years, "talky" movies expand, and Valentin - who refuses to do anything but silent movies - is suddenly obsolete. At the same time, Peppy's fame and popularity skyrockets, as she becomes Hollywood's new "It Girl." This movie goes back and forth following their careers, as one plummets and the other takes off, but yet there is an underlying romantic chemistry between them, as they keep meeting over a period of years.
Valentin's stubborn refusal to do speaking movies couldn't come at a worse time - the stock market crashed in 1929, and a self-financed movie bombs, leaving Valentin in financial shambles.
"The Artist" was produced in France, even though everything is silently spoken and written down in English. I was unfamiliar with the two French actors who starred in the movie, but Jean Dujardin (Valentin) and Berenice Bejo (Miller) both do a great job of telling their stories.
Much of the humor also comes from the lovable Jack Russell dog who stars in movies with Valentin, but also lives with him. The dog earned some great laughs from the packed theater when I saw this film over the weekend in the Twin Cities.
Shot on a $15 million budget, "The Artist" has earned $38 million worldwide since its Nov. 25 release. Critics at Rottentomatoes.com gave it a superb 97 percent approval rating. Movie-goers were equally impressed, giving the movie a 91 percent approval rating at the same website.
Vetter can be reached at 715-723-0303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Chris Vetter
Industry rating: PG-13 (a disturbing image and crude gesture).
Running time: 1:40.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius.
Vetter's grade: A.