Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist
capped a year-long jog through the grueling Oscar marathon Sunday night, taking home five Oscars including Best Picture, Director and Actor for Jean Dujardin.
The black-and-white, predominantly silent tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age started charming audiences at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, picked up multiple awards at festivals around the globe, and – as expected – cast its own magical spell over the Academy.
Which is great. Because even though the naysayers came out of the woodwork to nitpick Hazanavicius’ effervescent experiment, The Artist ultimately succeeds in reminding those of us who adore cinema how it used to be done in “the good old days.”
Before I finally put the film to bed, however – and believe me, I’m ready, as I’ve been writing about this movie in some form or another since March 2011 – I realized that The Artist can serve one last purpose. It’s sweet, soft and accessible enough that it can serve as an introduction for your movie-curious kids as to how it used to be done in “the good old days.”
And it also can open the doors to the Academy Awards, which your kids might be interested in now that they’re hearing about the Oscars. Think about it. What’s the last Best Picture winner you have been able to share with your kids? The Hurt Locker? The Departed? No Country for Old Men? Precious few BP winners qualify as family entertainment. The Artist does, and should be celebrated for that reason.
So, lets slip on our tuxedos, mug for the cameras, perfect a song-and-dance routine, train the dog to play dead, and figure out when you can watch The Artist with your kids.
Green Lights: There’s No Business Like Show Business
The Artist is so much more than a nostalgic gimmick. Fans of Hazanavicius’ gem understand it tells a lovely story of personal loss and professional redemption, of falling off your high horse and learning to get back up again, of believing in someone who’s down on their luck … and helping them believe in themselves once again.
All of those valuable life lessons packaged into an entertaining – and relatively quick – romp that can help introduce your children to a bygone genre? That’s a win-win situation. Don’t think your kids are ready for a silent movie? I can’t say I blame you, though “silence” isn’t as novel a concept as you’d imagine. My four-year-old, Brendan, adores Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit. Both of my boys laugh their butts off at Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean. Both tell stories – and crack jokes – with an economic use of words. How many characters have entertained silently over the years? Snoopy. The Pink Panther. Silent Bob.
Scratch that last one. Your kids aren’t ready for Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes yet.
But Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo can charm audiences of all ages with their boundless energy, endless facial expressions and adorable Jack Russell terrier. The Artist uses vintage tools but fashions an endlessly entertaining lark that acknowledges its contemporary audience. It’s funny (in pockets), endearing (in pockets), challenging (in pockets) and rewarding from start to finish.
It’s also safe, from a parents’ perspective. Though rated PG-13, The Artist is far more interested in song and dance than sex and violence. It might be a story about show business, with Dujardin’s silent film star trying to stay on top of the heap, but it’s also a picture about romance and love, it’s about finding your passion, and not letting people stand in your way of achieving your dreams.
It might be a story that connects deeper with our older sons and daughters, especially if, like Dujardin and Bejo’s characters, they harbor dreams of a life of performance. But the optimistic, warm-hearted and overtly creative Green Lights of The Artist far outweigh the one or two Red Flags I can think of, which I’ll run through in the next section.
Red Flags: You Ought To Be In Pictures
The last half hour might be a challenge for our kids, for a couple of different reasons.
For starters, the novelty of the silent-film genre might wear off after an hour if, by that point, the story hasn’t pulled your kids in. Hazanavicius tries to keep things as light as he can for as long as he can, but after awhile, Dujardin’s professional struggles have to take center stage, and young audience members who are still several decades away from their own mid-life crisis could start tuning out.
I’m also not sure if children can (or will want to) understand the morose sadness that comes with losing what’s most important to you. When Dujardin sees Hollywood’s door slam in his face, he’s robbed of that which defines him. It’s a compelling plot thread for parents, but one that will keep kids at an arm’s length.
Thankfully, neither The Artist nor Dujardin stay down for long. Just note that before Hazanavicius allows his leads to tap-dance feverishly toward his end credits, Dujardin briefly contemplates suicide, places himself at risk when he sets his films on fire – and his rescued, winningly, by his precious pooch – and has his ego bruised by Bejo in a critical scene.
Yet because The Artist moves by at such a rapid, jovial clip, these mild Red Flags are practically swallowed up by Hazanavicius’ overall celebration of cinema. If your kids have even a passing interest in film, you’re going to want to share it. So …
Ignore the PG-13 rating. It’s likely in place because the far-reaching themes of The Artist appeal to teens (and older). Your 10-year-old can handle The Artist … and will probably appreciate how unique it is to produce a black-and-white, largely silent film in 2011, when our industry is chasing its tail trying to perfect 3D and special effects aren’t as special as they used to be.
Have fun with The Artist. Challenge your kids to communicate without words after they see it. If they’re entertained, keep the conversation flowing with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films. There’s magic in these movies, and it will enchant your children. If and when you share it, please be sure to let me know how it goes.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.