Review first published 28/01/2012
Hollywood, 1927 – Silent movies are packing in the audiences and George Valentin is the jewel in the crown of Kinograph Studios.
When he literally bumps into Peppy Miller at the premiere of one of his films, it starts a chain of events which sees Valentin’s star fall as he refuses to move with the times and take on the challenge of “talkies”, whilst Peppy’s star rises as she becomes the darling of Hollywood as Kinograph’s new leading lady.
Finally, my local cinema has seen sense and decided to run this film and I am glad of it as I was rewarded with another great film this evening.
By rights, this film shouldn’t work with a contemporary audience as the premise is a 100 minute silent comedy-drama which is an homage to the last days of the silent film era and the birth of the “talkies”.
There are several factors which make this work. Firstly, the direction and screenplay by Hazanvicius. They tick every box of the silent/early talkie films – glamour, drama, comedy, montages. This plot is well paced and the story moves along quickly enough to prevent the audience getting bored but has enough story within it to keep the audience entertained. (I’ll put it this way, apart from some laughter at the appropriate times in the film, the audience at the screening I attended were silent throughout).
The two leads are perfectly cast in their roles. Jean Dujardin typifies the Hollywood leading man from the 20s and 30s combining the matinee idol looks and action man performances of a Douglas Fairbanks with the comedy timing of a Charlie Chaplin or a Harold Lloyd. Although he doesn’t speak, his physical performance has a combination of swagger, charm, pathos, romance and humour which has the audience rooting for him as he gets left behind in the Hollywood community due to his stubborn streak to carry on making silent films.
Berenice Bejo encapsulates the classic Hollywood leading lady as not only is she beautiful in the classic film star mould, but she’s also plucky, has a cheeky line of humour, lively and can portray sadness without being mawkish.
From the moment that the characters of George and Peppy meet, there’s a chaste love affair that threads throughout the film and it was beautifully portrayed by Dujardin and Bejo.
The supporting cast is also of a high calibre from the likes of John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller who get decent amounts of screen time in their roles of studio boss Al Zimmer, chauffeur/butler Clifton and Doris (George’s wife) respectively, along with cameos from actors such as Malcolm McDowell in the role of “The Butler” and Missi Pyle as Constance (George’s “leading lady” early in the film).
But their thunder is stolen by a co-star on four legs in the form of Uggy who portrays George’s on-screen canine assistant and off screen companion. Uggy gets some good scenes which work with the humour and drama of the piece… plus he can “play dead” convincingly too.
The soundtrack by Ludovic Bource compliments the action on screen with dramatic orchestras alongside musical numbers and comedic beats.
Basically, the whole film has the sense of style of a classic Hollywood film from all departments involved.
If you are a fan of films where the central storyline is about cinema, such as “Hugo” or “Cinema Paradiso”, you owe it to yourself to see this film.