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The Artist

Even while defying modern filmmaking techniques with a monochromatic palette and soundscape of silence, The Artist is as conventional as they come. That's not entirely a gripe—director Michel Hazanavicius' takes a simplistic approach to storytelling, paving the easiest path for his cinematic playground. The movie wears its intentions on its sleeve—The Artist is a technical exercise first, movie second—but the result is undeniably pleasant. Few will be safe from the movie's bombardment of silent but deadly charm.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a film actor working in 1920's Hollywood. He's a regular Douglas Fairbanks—a swashbuckling hunk who can smirk, swagger and dance his way through any motion picture. His boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) can't get enough of him, his current co-star Constance (Missi Pyle) can't steal his spotlight, his fans fill the red carpet clamoring for just one lucky snapshot, and he's got a dog friend that might just be the most adorable thing on the planet. At that moment in time, Valentin can't be topped.

But like all good things in a straightforward dramedy, Valentin's cloud nine career slowly begins to fall apart. He meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a budding actresses to whom Valentin quickly takes a liking. Their relationship grows professionally and romantically (albeit with distance—Valentin does have an unhappy wife, after all), but as the era of silent pictures wanes in favor of talkies, so does Valentin's popularity. Peppy becomes the next big thing, and her success leaves Valentin broke and in the dust.

Hazanavicius creates a Frankenstein's monster out of his film history knowledge, employing every trick in the silent film book to make The Artist shine. The writer/director digs just deep enough into Valentin's plight—a bumpy road intrinsically connected to its the medium—then lets whimsy of nostalgia do the heavy, emotional lifting. Ludovic Bource's bouncy orchestral score and Guillaume Schiffman's cinematography add to the general niceness of The Artist, complementing Dujardin's irresistible smile with their own intangible artistry.

And Dujardin deserves a real tip of the top hat, delivering the heightened movements of Valentin with the utmost precision. His English co-stars don't have a terrible amount to do other than stand around, wagging their fingers (one of the limitations of the medium), but Goodman, Bejo and James Cromwell, as Valentin's faithful driver Clifton, are as good as thespian finger-waggers come. But even with all the happy-go-lucky antics and memories of a time forgotten, The Artist remains lean. The movie's unable to overcome the technical constraints and cookie-cutter plot line to imbue any character—Valentin included—with anything remotely human. Each character is just a pawn Hazanavicius stylistic scheme.

The Artist is 100 minutes of toe-tapping entertainment, a sugary sweet treat that feels all the more fresh in the current hyperactive cinema-scape. Though, much like the silent era itself, once the curtain closes on The Artist, your attention may quickly turn to the next big thing. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.