This is an amiable, intermittently engaging picture that is as charming as it wants to be about 40 percent of the time, better-than-tolerable another 40 percent of the time, and rather dire during the period that it inexplicably uses a large chunk of Bernard Herrmann's score for Vertigo.
My main problem with it was the same thing that made me somewhat resistant to the two immediate prior collaborations between director Michel Hazanavicius and actor Jean Dujardin, the '50s French spy spoofs OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost In Rio. That is, none of the films quite make it at the level of pastiche to which they aspire. Yeah, you got me: I"m one of those jerks who bitched that Austin Powers, International Man Of Mystery didn't LOOK enough like a real Bond picture. And yes, it's true, I've never seen any of the original OSS 117 pictures, but hell, I've seen more than enough Lemmy Caution and Jerry Cotton pictures, and more, to get the general flavor of the '50s-'60s Euro-espionage film (see also Ferry to Hong Kong), and the Hazanavicius spoofs had an umistakable, for my money, close-but-no-cigar feel relative to those.
Similarly, The Artist, which, as you may have read, is a "homage" to the "magic" of the "silent cinema of yesteryear" (I don't know who I'm actually quoting there, but I'm reasonably sure that SOMEBODY has written those precise words with respect to the film), while presented in Academy ratio, or AN Academy ratio, and featuring no, or not much, spoken dialogue, and such, falls kind of short on production design, which struck me as being on the chintzy side, and on black-and-white cinematography, which is frequently more evocative of the house style of Monogram than late '20s Fox. I know that Larry Blamire's Lost Skeleton films are pastiches of films from a different era and genre, but seriously, he does a much more convincing job with a lot less money than what Hazanavicius accomplishes here.
The writing is also kind of slack, which is annoying in a different way. I was put off by how immediately unpleasant the character of the silent-movie artist's wife, played thanklessly by poor Penelope Ann Miller, was. And then I'm saying to myself, why the hell am I complaining about lack of psychological depth in a pastiche movie. But later on, during the part that has the inexcusable use of Herrmann's Vertigo score (and honest, people, I'm not an OVERLY religious man, but this was really a bit much), and the film is really trying to make you feel something, I'm thinking, well, isn't this a cute little game: first it wants me to not worry about depth, and now it wants me to cry. Like I said, annoying.
But, you know, that Dujardin fella sure is deft and energetic, and his foil Bérénice Bejo, while on occasion a trifle overtly contemporary in her projection, is adorable, as is that dog, or dogs, as the case may be. Nevertheless, the fact that this movie is being proclaimed the Best Film of 2011 by various critics' groups is literally—there's no other word for it—insane. One could make a snide remark or two about the various members of said groups perhaps strongly identifying with the film's title character's entitled indignance at his imposed obselescence, but that would just be mean. However, I will say that any expectation that these proclamations will effect some kind of populist wellspringing on the film's behalf is even more insane. We shall see.