You have to applaud a movie that takes every rule for How to Sell Your Movie to Modern Audiences and throws it on a silver nitrate fire. The Artist is black and white, silent, and in 1:33 ratio because it's made for people that long to experience the magic of films long since departed from the big screen. It is not for audiences firmly entrenched in 3D visuals, quick cuts, and computer generated animals doing the conga. Michael Hazanavicus has directed a movie that wraps itself around you and buries you deep within its spell, which is quite unlike anything modern and only surpassed by the original pieces it is paying tribute to. Although it's imperfect, its charm and grace make the flaws easy to forget.
We all know that no matter how you dress up a film, you can't distract anyone from a lacking storyline. Although this story is a familiar one, of "out with the old, in with the new," and "love conquers all," once you get past the technical distraction of a movie in only varying shades of gray, there's nothing else standing in your way from getting completely engrossed in the story. Thanks to amazing performances from Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a silent movie star who's past his prime, and Berenice Bejo, silent-film era Hollywood's new It girl, as well as the supporting cast (including John Goodman, Missi Pyle and James Cromwell), no one actually needs words to tell you what's going on. They do this crazy thing where they show you everything you need to know in their faces. They appeal to the audience on a basic human level that we've left far behind, but still inherently understand. Sure, we can get a computer to mimic it, but it's still just a copy.
For anyone like me who isn't a silent film aficionado, there's plenty to enjoy. The jokes are numerous, the conflict compelling, and the heartbreak almost too real to endure. Imagine Singin' in the Rain if Gene Kelly (who Dujardin happens to be a dead ringer for) had gotten fired from Monumental Pictures and had a taste for alcohol. Whenever the movie is obvious about using story beats from the 1952 musical, such as the dumb blonde co-star, or the two stars of the film meet cute-ing for a second time on a movie set, it's much weaker than the times where we get to just watch these actors dig into emotional moments. Although research reveals the historical references to the time embedded in the film's story, non-experts can just watch it as compelling drama. It works both ways.