***1/2 (out of four)
At one point in the joyous French silent film “The Artist,” former American silent movie star George Valentin (Cannes best actor winner Jean Dujardin) receives a compliment that kills him: “My father is a big fan.” That’s because it’s the early 1930s, talkies have taken over, and unlike Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain,” George hasn’t adapted to the changing industry. At all.
Instead, he’s watched as Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, irresistible), whose first brush with fame occurs when she stumbles onto the red carpet George walks, has climbed the ranks from extra to star to full-fledged cinema darling.
This delightful, beautifully acted ode to old Hollywood—co-starring John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller—may occasionally feel like a clever, conventionally plotted gimmick, replicating rather than reinventing. (Backlash against the film is already wildly out of control.) Yet writer-director Michel Hazanavicius loads “The Artist” with magical, romantic moments--whether it’s George and Peppy dancing together longer than they’re supposed to during filming or speaking to each other through the movies they make separately. It’s in service of a plenty relevant message about people who let fans convince them and their egos that they’re big-time celebrities.
Stardom is arbitrary, but folks with character know the difference between the face in the paper and the face in the mirror.
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