As I live in Los Angeles, I am an avid listener to the hilarious Kevin & Bean Show in the mornings on KROQ 106.7 FM. This past Tuesday, Kevin was complaining about The Artist, this year’s apparent frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. Not only does our man Kevin dislike the film, but he has gone as far as to call it “utter BS.”
He has, of course, made up his mind having never seen the film, under the guise that it is for hipsters and intellectuals. They’re all wrong, but we’re going to circle back to that.
In the meantime, let me explain a little bit about The Artist. Here we have a silent film about the silent film era, specifically focusing on the transition into the talkies. Many silent film stars lost their livelihood when sound came along, and more than a few ended their lives when they were told their careers as movie stars were over. Those who could afford to reinvent themselves did just that, and such is the path of our protagonist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a Frenchman who has spent his career singing and dancing and emoting without the aid of words. When sound hits the street, his success hits the skids, and he’s left to navigate the ways of filmmaking with only his faithful dog and his faithful driver (James Cromwell).
As George’s star falls, another rises in the form of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a background dancer turned talkie-starlet. George essentially gave her a career, from allowing an impromptu peck on the cheek in front of the newspapermen to penciling in her now-famous beauty mark when she was just finding her footing. Her ascent and his descent are both the result of a cruel industry and a powerful executive (John Goodman), who exemplifies Hollywood’s philosophy that an artist is only an artist when they can make someone money.
The film is backed by The Weinstein Company — which is run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the men behind Miramax (Pulp Fiction, Clerks, Shakespeare in Love, Swingers, etc.) — and the brothers are putting all their powers into locking the top honors at this year’s Academy Awards. Harvey even brought two granddaughters of late silent film star Charlie Chaplin to a screening for Academy voters. Perhaps it’s carpetbagging to the extreme, but it seems to be working.
But I’d say The Artist earns the theatrics and the accolades. It’s a great film, with story and performances resonate both because of the success of the talent but also the nature of the current global economy (a lot of folks are struggling with work right now). Sure, it’s a silent film, but it’s technical accomplishments result from a mix of old and new filmmaking practices that further exemplify just how far we’ve evolved as both creators and consumers.
Like so many who have seen the film, I knew remarkably little about it walking in, and was stunned at just how much I loved every minute of it. If Shame isn’t allowed to compete in this year’s Oscars (mainly because it deserves to take most of the major awards), then I can think of no film that exemplifies cinema’s knack for energy, ingenuity and raw emotion more than The Artist.
But let’s get back to Kevin’s/people like Kevin’s initial complaint — that this is a film only for intellectuals and douche hipsters. To clarify, The Artist is making a great deal of money in every location it opens, and it continues to grow in popularity every day. Hell, it’s even being discussed on popular morning radio shows. I argue that The Artist is popular to the mainstream, which means it’s more hipster-douchey to not see this film and lambast it than it is to sit down and give it a chance.
So here’s my challenge to Kevin of Kevin & Bean: Go watch The Artist. If you totally hate it, I’ll eat my hat live on your show. Deal? Deal.
Afterthought: It ain’t just for intellectuals. Sure, I loved The Artist. But I also loved Fast Five, a movie about fast-driving cars that drive fast. I loved Rango, a kids’ movie about a lizard saving a western town of desert animals. I loved Thor, Harry Potter, X-Men: First Class, Bridesmaids, and Captain America (which I’m watching as I write this review). If I can like all of these concurrently, so can Kevin.