In 1927, George (Dujardin) is Hollywood's top star, swashbuckling through adventure blockbusters with his faithful sidekick dog Uggy. At one of his premieres he meets Peppy (Bejo), a mystery girl who gets her own shot at stardom as a dancing extra in one of George's films. His grumpy wife (Miller) isn't happy about this. And there's more trouble when the studio boss (Goodman) decides to switch to talkies. So George walks out to make his own silent film, while Peppy becomes a sound-movie star. But she doesn't forget that he gave her a break.
Filmmaker Hazanavicius tells the story in pristine black and white with an expressive musical score and title cards to convey the dialog. There are constant visual sight gags that hark back to a very different time in the movies, and yet the film also has a surprisingly realistic edge to it, as these characters also have off-screen lives that are complicated and rather messy.
The clever direction is funny and sweet, continually taking our breath away with inspired moments of comedy or pathos.
And at the centre, Dujardin creates one of the year's best movie characters: a man who's knee-weakeningly dashing and knows it, but doesn't have a mean bone in his body. His first experience of the talkies is an unforgettable cinematic moment that he plays exquisitely, and he's just as effective when things escalate into a surreal Fellini-style dream or descend into a dark, lost weekend. Meanwhile, his chemistry with Bejo is goosebump-inducing. Her deep yearning is so beautifully played that she wins our heart too.
And the film gets to us on other levels too, layering in thoughtful observations about progress, most notably the bittersweet fact that everyone must make way for the young. As George struggles to overcome his pride, the film dips into some very dark places that are wrenchingly real. His deep-seated fear is that no one wants to hear him speak, so we root for him to get the courage to dance into a whole new world.
Run time: 100 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th January 2012
Box Office USA: $44.7M
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company
Production compaines: La Petite Reine, Studio 37
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 225 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Producer: Thomas Langmann, Emmanuel Montamat
Screenwriter: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller, John Goodman as Al Zimmer, James Cromwell as Clifton, Penelope Ann Miller as Doris, Missi Pyle as Constance, Beth Grant as Peppy's Maid, Ed Lauter as Peppy's Butler, Joel Murray as Policeman Fire, Bitsie Tulloch as Norma, Ken Davitian as Pawnbroker, Malcolm McDowell as The Butler, Basil Hoffman as Auctioneer, Bill Fagerbakke as Policeman Tuxedo, Nina Siemaszko as Admiring Woman (as Nina Siemazko), Stephen Mendillo as Set Assistant, Dash Pomerantz as Peppy's Boyfriend, Beau Nelson as Peppy's Boyfriend, Alex Holliday as Guard, Wiley M. Pickett as Guard (as Wiley Pickett), Ben Kurland as Audition Casting Assistant, Katie Nisa as Audition Dancer, Katie Wallack as Audition Dancer (as Katie Wallick), Hal Landon Jr. as Napoleon, Uggie as The Dog