A Portrait of The Artist as a Terrible Movie

Oh, you guys. You guys, you guys, you guys, you guys.

You guys.

The Artist is going to win Best Picture at the Oscars, isn’t it? It’s certainly going to get nominated.

And you guys? I am NOT happy about this state of affairs.

Because The Artist is a fucking terrible movie.

Welcome! To 2011’s “Crash”!

Ty Burr in the Boston Globe:

Michael Hazanavicius’s love letter to classic cinema isn’t perfect but it’s close enough to make just about anyone who sees it ridiculously happy – and that includes children and grown-ups who have never come across a silent film

Wait, I thought Hugo was this year’s love letter to classic cinema?

Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times:

I’ve seen “The Artist” three times, and each time it was applauded, perhaps because the audience was surprised at itself for liking it so much.

Or…perhaps because the people you saw it with are easily impressed simpletons?

Claudia Puig in USA Today:

The Artist is an inventive, visually eloquent and joyously intoxicating celebration of movies. Be prepared to emerge from this enchanting film inclined to do the happy dance the stars perform so charmingly.

I was prepared for that after reading your review, Claudia. But instead, I did a morose version of a slow waltz by myself in the lobby of the multiplex.

Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle:

In many ways – in all ways – “The Artist” is a profound achievement. A silent movie – or rather, a sound film with a music soundtrack – it evinces such mastery of form that it could easily be mistaken for a real classic.

First of all…in all ways? Really? In every conceivable way that a film can succeed, The Artist succeeded? I don’t believe that you believe that. I HATE this movie, and even I will cede that some facets of the movie were executed well (Bérénice Bejo is great, e.g.). Second of all, if this could be mistaken for a silent film classic, I’ve never been more delighted that we live in the era of talkies.

Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Strangely, wonderfully, The Artist feels as bold and innovative a moviegoing experience as James Cameron’s bells-and-whistles Avatar did a couple of years ago.

Finally. That sounds about right. This film is almost exactly as wonderful and bold as Avatar. But Steven — I do not think that means what you think it means.

Make no mistake: critics fucking love The Artist. And why shouldn’t they? It’s like Old Lady Johnson left a delicious pie cooling on the windowsill — are the critics supposed to not steal it and eat it until their faces are covered with blueberry juices?

The Artist contains so many elements that serve as catnip for critics: it honors the history of film (and rewards them for sitting through all those screenings in film school), it’s out of step with the times, it tries something different (an admirable quality, no doubt), it involves French people, and the studio released it in December — a clear, Pavlovian signal that this is a goddamn serious movie meant to be taken seriously and you WILL consider this an Oscar contender.

Audiences love The Artist too, giving it a CinemaScore grade of “A,” and continuing to flock to its limited screenings. As with critics, why shouldn’t they? The Artist blatantly panders to audiences — it’s a fucking Pander Monster. The Artist is like a nervous first-time babysitter who’s afraid the kids won’t like her, so she brings over a car full of toys, games, candy and desserts, then spends the night performing fun dances until she’s covered in flop sweat.

Like Woody Allen’s similarly overrated 2011 release Midnight in Paris, The Artist ingratiates itself to viewers by making them feel smart. Shockingly, they’re both Oscar contenders.

Midnight in Paris spends most of its running time making winking references to Hemingway and Fitzgerald books and anecdotes, so that anyone who ever took a high school English class will think, “Hey! I get that! Hemingway really was that brash! I’m well read and cultured!” Meanwhile, the rest of the film slides by so you don’t notice the mediocre writing or the insulting lack of subtlety in message.

The Artist, rather than making fun, crossword puzzle literary quips, spends most of its running time calling attention to the fact that THIS IS A SILENT FILM! THERE IS NO TALKING! So the dialogue — plastered on the screen textually like in days of yore — is peppered with references to talking, speaking, having no voice, etc. And the film’s symbolism — such as it is — is punch-you-in-the-face heavy-handed.

In their otherwise positive review, The AV Club points out a fitting example:

One particularly obvious scene has Dujardin and Bejo stopping for a bittersweet conversation on a Hollywood studio stairwell; he’s headed down and out of the building, she’s going up and in, but they pause for a moment in the middle, with him looking up soulfully at her newly lofty position.

There’s plenty more where that came from. Moreover, because the actors have to, you know, act, without the benefit of speaking, they spend their time mugging like crazy to the cameras and making irritating, exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. Yes, yes, I understand that these elements are part of an homage to the silent movies the filmmakers so dearly love — but the bottom line is that they don’t work. At all.

And if there wasn’t enough pandering and condescension going around, the third most important character in The Artist is an adorable doggie.

I mean, for God’s sake, I love dogs as much as the rest of us (no I don’t) but do we really need Eddie from Frasier jumping around and being cute as fuck to truly involve us in a film?

“Hey, don’t blame me: I am so fucking embarrassed to be party to this.”

When The Artist won Best Film (Musical or Comedy) at the Golden Globes (which is a real awards show that we should definitely value and respect), the whole fucking troupe came on stage to accept the award. There, two things happened simultaneously that efficiently summarize why I hate The Artist:

1) The film’s producer, Thomas Langmann began his speech like this: “In 1965, a young French man won an Oscar for making a short film but he could not afford to travel to Hollywood…” It was obvious that the man in question was his father, yet Hazanavicius still ended his speech by dramatically intoning, “…and that man. Was my father.”

2) The film’s star, Jean Dujardin, stood behind his director and proceeded to undermine him by mugging for the cameras (can’t stop; won’t stop) and playing with the dog, whom he had brought onstage.

Both of these things on their own would have been awful to watch. Together, they were unbearable. Mark my words: we could have another Roberto Benigni moment coming our way at The Oscars.

We’re supposed to love The Artist because it glorifies all the things that used to be great and important in movies, and because of its oh-so-subtle theme of time leaving us all behind. But it insults what it intends to honor through poor execution and an overarching desire to be loved. It never stops trying to make you love it, not even for a second. The Artist is the neediest girl/boyfriend of this awards season.

As happened to Roger Ebert, people applauded at the end of the movie at the theatre where I suffered through it. They probably went home that night feeling great about themselves, like they had watched something that really matters, and that they’re great people because they are refined enough to appreciate such a thing. But they were all just suckers, having been duped by a film with utterly nothing behind it except abject flattery. As they filtered out of the arthouse, they were filled with such pride: “We did it! We sat through a silent movie! And it wasn’t even that bad!”

The Artist is not a serious endeavor. Even John fucking Goodman can’t save it. You’ve been warned.



Filed under Film Has AIDS, The Dilemma

14 responses to “A Portrait of The Artist as a Terrible Movie

  1. Nini

    Completely agree. Terrible movie.. even worse, it’s being celebrated as something above average and special by people who just can’t admit that they didn’t like it either for fear that they will seem stupid.

    Ugh. So terribly disappointed that it won ANYTHING at the Oscars.

  2. Bill

    This is what I am really concerned about: this typical review by a young man who states he has never seen a true silent film from that era. I am hoping that this kind of vulgar talk about an ersatz silent film will create discussion and will eventually lead to a true revival of respect for the silent films, at least the great ones.He wrote in his review, “What can I say about this wonderful film, that critics and fellow movie-goers haven’t already captured in their written acclaim? Well, from a personal standpoint, and as someone who has never before experienced the great wonders of the silent film era, I was both delighted and overwhelmed by how much a movie so muted, can speak in such in tremendous and emotional volumes. From its very first moments, I was absorbed into this black-and-white sensation of a film, and never wanted to leave as it came to a close. Everything has been done so impeccably, so elaborately beautiful in its very essence, that you feel nothing but admiration for the cast and crew behind its making. Director Michel Hazanavicious has succeeded in the near-impossible; bringing back a classic format, that hasn’t seen the light of day since 1929. A mesmerizing homage, that not only re-captures the techniques flawlessly, but entertains, moves and sweeps you off into a state of pure awe and inspiration. Yes, The Artist is every bit as amazing as they say. Deserving of all its praise and worthy of all the Oscars that are bound to come in its way. A fantastic, original and incredibly uplifting tour-de-force, that makes everything else in the repertoire look like the work of untalented hacks. A standing ovation and hats off into the air, for this magically brilliant masterpiece, that leaves you as speechless and lost for words as its gifted performers.” scary. sad.help.

  3. Bill

    what is not understood by a few is that the silent film was reaching artistic perfection in the late 20s; the shift to talkies killed the artist of the silent films. however, so many of the early films of the 30s were really silent films; watch the incredible performances of vivien leigh and charles laughton in “sidewalks of london” for a chance to see great faces before they became great faces. it’s a talkie, but turn of the sound and just watch them. and of course charles chaplin did a silent film in 1936 which is considered one of his best. in fact, watch “modern times” to see what “the artist” is ripping off. i hate “the artist”.

  4. Bill

    or watch “2001” again, which is the greatest of all hybrids, a “silent talkie”. where is kubrick when we need him. even malick has deserted us.

  5. Bill

    please rent “sunrise” from netflix and avoid this so-called movie at all costs. or if you prefer, go deep and watch “the passion of joan of arc”. that will really blow your mind. or anything else by dreiser. or “ugetsu” which is really a silent movie but made in the 50s. there is SO much more than this small-minded crap called “the artist.” what a shame. sad for the oscars. the end of the oscars?

  6. Pingback: 2 Idiots Discuss: The 2012 Oscars | Pop Culture Has AIDS

  7. Great review! I saw the movie a few weeks ago and thought it was fine — nothing more than good popcorn. It was charming, I enjoyed it, and I never thought about it again after leaving the theater. This film is not really worth of all the high praise. In that respect, it really is no different than watching something akin to Crank: High Voltage or New Year’s Day or whatever else the culture industry churns out. Then again, this tends to be the case with most Indiewood productions. True independent voices hardly ever get heard. When people left the theatre predominantly filled with middle-age parents, I heard remarks like “best movie I’ve seen in theatres in awhile!” But, like you said, this movie is full of flattery and pandering. It makes the audience feel like they’re smart for watching an “indie” film that does something “different”. It’s kind of like watching Donnie Darko or Chasing Amy in high school and then realizing that it’s actually not that good or clever, but as a high schooler, those films have all the elements of a “smart” movie. In many respects, this movie is the anti- Tree of Life, which was challenging and beautiful (and in many ways, about as silent a film as The Artist!).

  8. WHY

    I completely agree with you! Sitting through this film was a little bit like torture to me. When I talked to the friend I was watching it with afterwards – telling them I hadn’t liked it – they were so appalled! At the end of the day, this IS a movie to make people who aren’t interested enough to go view an actual silent film feel better about themselves and feel like they are “connecting” to a lost era.

    • Bridget

      Agree. I cringed throughout the entire movie. I would have walked out if i wasn’t with friend. The inattention to historical detail was astounding.

  9. Robert

    Thank you for this dissenting opinion. When my wife and I saw the preview for this movie, we thought “This has got to be a joke.” But no, it is a real silent, black & white movie, designed to trick people into thinking it’s “classy” and “important”. We have no desire to waste our $20 and hour and a half of our lives on this dreck.

  10. Will

    Thank you for writing this. I love movies. I love silent movies too. I think about films like Greed and how much stuff is packed into a few minutes. I walked out of the Artist after an hour or longer, not sure. Maybe the third movie I’ve ever done that with, out of hundreds. It was so bad I still can’t believe it. Silent films had plot and character. Even the dog was tedious!

  11. Bridget

    I cringed throughout this entire movie. I thought the dog was the best actor.

  12. santinograce

    do you hate everything?

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