Director: Michel Hazanavicius
George Valentin: Jean Dujardin
Peppy Miller: Berenice Bejo
Jack, the dog: Uggie
Studio head: John Goodman
Butler/Driver/George's one friend: James Cromwell
George's poor wife: Penelope Ann Miller
Why is he even listed in the credits: Malcolm McDowell
A major part of any story is identifying with the main characters. Is empathy.
Take Brad Pitt in Moneyball. Not everyone can relate to being a Major League general manager. But most of us can understand being in a precarious situation. That our job is on the line if we can't figure out a way to innovate/succeed. That when you take a risk people will question you, will ridicule you. But when you have no other options, you swallow the criticism and persevere. Brad Pitt, as Billy Beane, doesn't give up. He works like a fucking maniac, despite his nerves, his fears, his past failures, and the doubts of others.
The main characters in Attack the Block are anti-heroes. They're teenage British street thugs. The opening scene involves them robbing a woman. Most of us aren't street thugs. Or teenagers. Most of us don't rob people. We come home from work. Which means we relate more to the woman (Sam), who is coming home from work. When she's robbed by the main characters, we don't empathize with them. Mostly likely, we think they sort of suck. Then the film works to to make us empathize with these characters we once despised (or at least didn't like). How's it do this? ALIEN INVASION. We can't empathize with their earlier actions. But when they're trying to survive being hunted by beastly extraterrestrials, we can empathize with doing what you have to to survive. To being chased. To feeling scared, confused. With losing a friend. With having to work with someone you don't get along with (the woman they robbed earlier). We also find out more about the characters, especially Moses and his sad home life. This endears us even more. Our attitude about the boys mirrors the evolving attitude of Sam, progressing from hostile to indifferent to understanding to respectful.
The Artist asks us to identify with and empathize with George Valentin (Dujardin). George is a famous, famous silent film star. Then "talkies" come and he's pretty much fired. That sucks. We can empathize with that. Losing your job is rough. Especially due to changing times. That's relevant today. How many people have lost their jobs as our economy's transitioned from manufacturing to service to technology? Then George loses his fortune because of the stock market crash! That's also relevant! We're in a recession! A stupid, lingering recession! The movie is set 80 years ago, but it resonates with today! COOL!
After he's fired, I'm ready to care about George. I'm empathizing with George. What's he going to do!?!?!
He writes a silent film, directs it, finances it. And it fails. He fails. Okay, that sucks, but...I mean...it makes sense. The idea was sort of...ridiculous. Silent movies are dead...and he blows all this money on a silent film...
I get it, he's in denial. He doesn't want to accept talkies are the next thing. He's being stubborn and prideful.
After his film's failure, George drinks and drinks and drinks. He won't divorce his wife even though he won't talk to her. We don't see him trying to find more work. He's on his way down to rock-bottom.
It's around this point in movies when the main characters find some sort of motivation. Someone yells at them. Someone is dying. Someone dies. Some opportunity arises. Moneyball has this. Billy Beane has the pieces in place for his "moneyball" system, but the manager and players don't really understand what he wants to do, they're doing their own thing, and the Athletics have a losing record. The media is saying he'll be fired soon. Beane is upset. What can he do? He shakes things up. He trades the team's best prospect to make way for one of his moneyball picks, Scott Hatteberg. This is a proactive step. Risky. But proactive. As was hiring Peter Brand. As was signing Hatteberg, Justice, and Bradford. Beane goes further. After the trades, he makes a speech to the players. Not a good one, not a profound one, one that is anti-climactic for a sport's film. But it marks another transition. Up to this point, Beane had been hands-off with the players. He was an administrator. They were players. The two don't interact. But for his system to work he needs to go all-in. He needs the players to understand what's going on. Immediately following this speech, we have a minute long montage of Beane and Brand going over sabermetrics with players. This leads up to a scene with Beane and David Justice. Justice, in the twilight of his all-star career, says to Beane: "I've never seen a GM talk to players like that, man," regarding the instruction and advice Beane and Brand have been giving. Following this series of ACTION, the Athletics embark on a 20-game win streak, the most in American League history. The lowest point of the film is followed by the highest.
Unless the movie is a tragedy. If it's a tragedy, the main character finds no motivation, or the wrong motivation, and things continue to decline.
If The Artist were a tragedy, I'd give it mad props. Because it'd be a lesson in the dangers of pride, the danger of wallowing in self-pity for so long there's no way to escape. It would make the earlier quicksand scene that concludes George's self-written, self-directed, self-produced film all the more powerful.
Rather than tragedy, The Artist has a happy ending. George and Peppy are together. George has a film career again.
But George hasn't earned EITHER of these things. He did not take action to improve his circumstances. At every opportunity, he took a step toward self-destruction. He pushed away his wife (who he seemed to care about at the beginning of the movie, until he met Peppy), but didn't pursue Peppy. He became an alcoholic. He fired Clifton. And we can argue firing Clifton was a mercy because he wasn't going to pay Clifton and wanted Clifton to get a new job, that this is what was best for Clifton. My counter to that: Clifton was George's friend, he worked for free because he cared about George; if George wanted to help his friend, he would have stopped being such a little bitch and found a way to get his (George's) life out of the gutter. He didn't HAVE to be a film star. But he refused to be anything less. That's noble. But it's also ridiculous.
Being a film star is a privilege. Same with being an MLB player, an NFL player, a pop icon, etc.
Because while those people are being paid lots and lots of money, while they're living in mansions, have their health, looks, and lifestyle, there are the rest of us. We aren't getting paid lots and lots of money, we aren't living in mansions. We may have our health, but our friends and relatives may not, they may have cancer, or a physical handicap, and not all of us are gorgeous people, not all of us have stylists, makeup artists.
Even after "losing everything" George sells all his shit and is living in a pretty nice place. He's unhappy. But he has a home. He's still in LA. He has his looks. His health.
What's he do?
HE ATTEMPTS TO COMMIT SUICIDE. He burns all of his old films. Cathartic. But it's a hissy fit of a privileged man who doesn't understand how good his life is when compared to the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, his dog saves him (Lassie moment). Peppy sweeps him up from the hospital. She gets Al Zimmer (John Goodman) to accept George for a movie. His life is turning around! ALL THANKS TO PEPPY, since George is too much of a child to do it on his own.
Peppy shows him the script. He's ungrateful. The prick. She leaves. Then he discovers she's the one who bought all of his stuff he had auctioned off, which means it's her money he's been living off of. He STORMS out of the house. In a fit. An absolute fit. WHAT A TERRIBLE REVELATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Not fucking really though.
Hearing "You have stage three lung cancer," is a terrible revelation. Hearing "There's been a car accident..." is a terrible revelation. Finding out the condom broke is a terrible revelation. If this is the worst thing in George's life, I would trade him problems in a second. Would you?
What's George do? He's going to kill himself. Again. And the movie would have been good had he died. He's a terribly tragic character because he's such a passive fucking idiot.
Note: he was going to kill himself with his dog, Jack, right there. That's how selfish he is. He didn't even have the decency to make sure someone would take care of Jack. He could have left Jack with Peppy. He could have dropped Jack off at a random house. Nope. He'll just kill himself and let someone else take care of Jack. And that sums George up. He wouldn't divorce his wife. He wouldn't pursue Peppy. He wouldn't try to salvage his career. He wouldn't try to reinvent himself. He wouldn't get a new job. He wouldn't abandoned his pride. He refused to understand what it means to be humble. He puts himself ahead of everyone else.
It's not like he tried everything he could and everything he tried failed. He made one attempt and gave up. He is not a victim of the end of silent films, he isn't a victim of the transition to "talkies". He's a victim of his own gigantic bitch-ness.
I don't identify with that. Nor do I empathize with it.
The movie could have the message of: shit happens, but if you don't man up, if you wallow, this is what your fate could be...
Instead Peppy saves George (for the 48,000 time). Not only that, she gets him into a movie where he can dance instead of talk. He's a film star again! Dancing!! WHAT A GOOD IDEA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Too bad George didn't think about that four years earlier.
It's no wonder why The Artist won best picture and Dujardin best actor. The academy is 94% white, 77% male. 100% wealthy. Of course they identify with George. Of course they empathize.
"But He Has a French Accent!!!":
Eh. Does he? Is that why he wasn't suited for talkies? Which would mean he's sad because it's not that he won't talk, it's that he can't talk (with an English accent). He isn't verbally suited for a starring role.
That sucks. A physical handicap is limiting him. How poignant.
Except...an accent isn't a handicap. Have you heard Christian Bale talk?
I don't buy the "French Accent" argument. Yes. If he indeed had an accent, that sucks. But still...why not try to........get.....rid....of it? If what you really want to be is a film star...why not work to be a film star? When it's easy, he's happy. When he has to put in effort, he pouts?
It'd be totally ironic if The Artist is about a guy with a speaking problem who REFUSES to do anything about it and acts pathetic. Why? Because the 2011 best picture winner was The King's Speech. Which is about a man who works and works and works and works and works to get over his speech impediment. The movies are two paths diverging in one wood, so to speak (heh).
And look. George talks throughout the movie. To other people. He speaks to Clifton. To the people behind the stage during the opening scene. He speaks to Peppy. To Zimmer. Remember? Did any of these people ever react in a way that would suggest he didn't sound normal? Or that they couldn't understand what he was saying (due to his thick accent)?
"Maybe they heard it but were just being polite."
If he did have an accent, the movie does nothing to substantiate it. There's no queer look. There's no time where he says something and someone says to him, "What was that? Come again?" Aside from his one line of dialogue, there's nothing validating his accent. Zimmer doesn't say, "George, we're switching to talkies and...we can't use you. You're no good for it." Zimmer says they need new faces, that people want fresh faces and new stars.
"That's because he's being polite!"
We can't point to any other aspect or detail of the movie to justify this. And we have to be able to do this.
Is Deckard a blade runner (Blade Runner)? There's evidence to support it.
Did Stephen betray Morris (The Ides of March)? There's evidence to support this.
The evidence supporting George's accent is one line. That's it. We could argue he was out of breath from dancing. We could argue he hadn't had anything to drink and was thirsty, had a dry throat, so that when he tried to talk he croaked out the words. We could argue that Dujardin has an accent and didn't bother to try to cover it up, or that that was the best English accent he could do. I don't see how anyone can make a legitimate case FOR George having a French accent.
But. Say he does. Say that's the reason.
He still doesn't try to do anything about it. He doesn't hire a speech coach. He doesn't try to get Clifton to help him. He doesn't get another job. If you want to be a film star SO BAD, why not GO TO FRANCE and make movies there?????? Or why not write a talkie where the main character is a Frenchman visiting LA?
You can't tell me there was NOTHING George could have done. So accent or no accent, my critique of him being a Tootsie Roll still stands.
Did I Like It:
No. Not at all.
I liked the first five minutes. The shot from the upper corner of the theater so we see the screen and part of the audience. That was cool.
I liked the dream too. Where George is hearing sound. I wish the movie would have gone surrealist and the rest of the film had been that way. It would have been such a good inversion. A film, is, really, a system. It gives us a system, establishes the rules, then shows us how these rules work. Inception, for instance. In Good Will Hunting, the system is that everyone is stuck, and Will, despite his intellect, is also stuck. The satisfaction comes when he breaks out of the system, when he leaves. The Artist establishes the silent system. Then it breaks it. I thought "Now that's bold!" Establish a system for an hour, then break that system. What will the rest of the movie be like?!?!?! I was disappointed it was only a dream. We're back into the same system. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against silent pictures. It's just...there's so much potential when you break the system in the middle of the movie. It's bold. That's what makes the idea of Mol's character (in Inception) so cool to me. She's a random element. She's constantly changing the rules that Dom thinks are in place. She's not totally breaking the system, but she's altering it. In Game of Thrones, what George R.R. Martin does with Ned Stark is a a system breaker. No one sees that coming. System breaking is cool.
Janet Leigh getting killed in the middle of Psycho: system breaker.
Darth Vader turning out to be Luke's father: SYSTEM BREAKER
I thought, for the span of that dream, The Artist had been bold enough to break its system. Nope.
What It's Good For:
-a history lesson
-watching Bejo smile
-making me angry
-argument about whether Singing in the Rain is better (I think: no contest, Rain in a first round knockout)
-it's silent (not everyone likes this)
-thinly developed characters
-it's a pity party
-if you've suffered real tragedy and carried on with your head held high, you can't respect George
% Character / % Actor's personality or previous roles
-Bejo: A KNIGHT'S TALE!
-Goodman: The Big Lebowski; Arachnaphobia; O Brother, Where Art Thou; Monsters Inc.; Speed Racer
-Cromwell: L.A. Confidential
-Silent films: The Kid; The General; The Birth of a Nation; Metropolis; Nosferatu; The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse