Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Artist & Brave

I did exactly as Brandon said and went into THE ARTIST with as open a mind as possible. I tried to forget all the inordinate hype, acclaim, and awards, instead focusing on the film as just some minuscule French movie that no one really saw or had heard of. I also let down my cynical modern film guard for the time being and just sat there waiting for the film's humor, charm, and unbridled joy to wash over me like some carefree dream.

I waited...and I waited...and I waited. But it never seemed to come.

For all the crowd pleasing hype this thing has gotten, I am surprised by how little this film was able to make me feel elated. Its charms all seemed forced and contrived, never genuinely earned. Its lighter moments are a bit too manic and artificial, as if Hazanavicious and the actors are trying much too hard to replicate the natural charms of more talented performers from the past. Its darker moments are a bit too obvious and simplistic; real pathos is never achieved nor is there any sense of novel commentary on the passage of time and what is lost as our society seems to "progress." As a strict homage to classic film, it has none of the magic of the predecessors it imitates. It is a quintessential gimmick film, concerned more with how it wants to appear than it actually is. And do not get me wrong, I would easily forgive it for being a gimmick if it were able to be artistic and emotionally viable beyond its surface glam, but it is not. John, you are mistaken about BROADWAY DANNY ROSE. This is what a trifle looks like.

As if being a black-and-white silent film in 2011 weren't gimmicky enough, THE ARTIST feels compelled to steal the plot lines of other classics along the way. Narratively, it is basically just a rehash of both SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and A STAR IS BORN. But it touches nowhere near the enjoyment or even the emotional reality of either of those films. It's just a tarnished copy of them. Watching THE ARTIST, I honestly just felt like popping in either of those movies instead.

To be completely fair, I didn't hate THE ARTIST. It's ultimately too innocuous to hate. I will certainly give the film its due for both revering classic film and for potentially being a catalyst that will arouse interest in silent film, black-and-white, and the Hollywood Golden Age. I thank it for doing both. But I can't say that it ever rises above mere reverence to become its own artistic statement; therefore, I cannot recommend it. It all feels like hearing an old joke retold by someone who knows little about comedy or timing.

I had a much better time watching BRAVE than THE ARTIST, even with all the little kids around talking and yelling randomly for no reason. It's a pretty terrific film. I'd have to wholeheartedly agree with Brandon and Adrienne's praises of it. I think Adrienne did a great job highlighting what's great about the film, both in terms of visuals and emotional themes. It certainly looks gorgeous. It's also very sincere, exciting, and often quite funny. I think it does a skillful job of balancing its humor with a real sense of adventure and emotional stakes. I was slightly worried (SPOILER) as soon as Merida's mother turns into the bear (END SPOILER), as I was afraid it would enter too much into slapsticky territory, but thankfully, it didn't and instead maintained a high level of thrill and tenderness. The whole film very much stays centered around both. It's delightful.

I honestly don't understand the critical reaction to this claiming that the film somehow does a disservice to its first true female protagonist. No way. Merida is smart, independent, adventurous, compassionate, and she loves her family. I think boys and girls could both equally relate to and feel attached to her. She's awesome, and the story around her is the perfect adornment. I guess this is just another of those cases where the earnestness of a film (à la JOHN CARTER) goes completely over the head of the critics. And yet, they all fell for the contrivance that is THE ARTIST. What's the deal?

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