Since "The Artist" can't speak for itself, let me sing its praises instead.
Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius revives that forgotten genre the black-and-white silent comedy to create a sprightly and entertaining movie that makes old techniques and ideas feel fresh.
The time is 1927, when the silent movie is at its artistic peak and George Valentin (played by French star Jean Dujardin) is at the top of the mountain. He's such a star that when fresh-off-the-bus acting hopeful Peppy Miller (BÃ©rÃ©nice Bejo) literally bumps into him on the red carpet at his latest premiere, it becomes front-page news.
Soon Peppy, admiring George from afar, is auditioning for dancing roles and hoping for a big break. That break comes with the advance of a newfangled technology: talkies. George, confident in his ability to entertain, dismisses the new sound technology as a passing fad. Soon, he finds his career as a dashing silent hero crumbling while Peppy quickly rises.
All the while, Peppy's crush on George causes her to offer him opportunities to rehabilitate his career. But George's stubborn pride won't let him accept them.
Hazanavicius' script mashes up some classic Hollywood plotlines, unabashedly lifting from "Singin' in the Rain" and "A Star Is Born." These references give the movie a nostalgic glow as much as the black-and-white cinematography and period costumes and cars do.
But in looking back to the bygone past, Hazanavicius finds parallels to modern times, humanizing the plight of anyone who ever saw his or her livelihood threatened by a seismic technological shift.
Hazanavicius' direction is letter-perfect. From Ludovic Bource's playful score to the clever editing, the movie captures the details and the tone of the silent era.
The key, though, is his casting of two frequent collaborators, Dujardin and Bejo. Dujardin is a master mime, expressing George's rugged leading-man swagger and his hubristic decline with the slightest of gestures. Bejo adds a radiance and a spark of joy, and scores in a tender scene where Peppy finds George's tuxedo jacket and imagines him caressing her.
Around them is an array of supporting actors we never realized would be great silent stars: John Goodman as a studio mogul, James Cromwell as George's loyal chauffeur, Penelope Ann Miller as George's shrewish wife, and Missi Pyle as George's jealous leading lady. "The Artist" also benefits from the inclusion of Uggie, the second-cutest Jack Russell terrier in movies. (Christopher Plummer's dog in "Beginners" is first.)
"The Artist" should come with a warning, though: Give it a few minutes to establish its rhythm or, more precisely, for the audience to get in sync with the rhythm this sneakily modern and wonderfully old-fashioned movie.
Both old-fashioned and fresh, this silent comedy about a fading matinee idol and a rising starlet is a pure joy.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas
When • Opens Friday, Jan. 20.
Rating • PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.
Running time • 100 minutes.