So, yes, The Artist is full of charm, excellent performances, and the cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman evokes the era well, but George (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy (?) (Berenice Bejo) compete with the dog in their drive to be appealing. I guess all of this winsomeness may be designed to offset the negativity of Valentin's self-destructive pride, but I had trouble believing in his arrogance. Why couldn't he try the new sound technology out, as the silent stars actually did back in the 1920s, and as the characters do in the much more plausible Singing in the Rain (1952)? Once Greta Garbo successfully made the awkward transition to sound with Anna Christie (1930), her boyfriend, the MGM silent star John Gilbert, tried and failed because his voice was too high (also his silent-movie era enhanced acting style didn't help matters). Later, Garbo attempted to save Gilbert's career much as Peppy does for George by insisting that he costar in Queen Christina (1933). (In case anyone was left wondering about this correspondence, Peppy at one point uncharacteristically says "I want to be alone.") Still, usually, when seeing depictions of people making the transition to the sound era, one finds them pragmatically acknowledging technological change.
Writer and director Hazanavicius seems content to conjure up some under-explained moody friction before turning to wish-fulfillment and George's (spoiler alert) glorious return to the limelight. Aside from the canisters of old silent films that George burns in a fit of despondency, George ultimately loses nothing. Peppy has all of his former auctioned off possessions waiting for him in a beautiful new Gatsbyish mansion. His possessions, fame, everything just waits for its retrieval at the end. He even gets his "That'll do, pig" chauffeur (James Cromwell) back.
The Artist is so eager to please, it licks the viewer's face wildly, just like a dog would do, but there's something too self-congratulatory about its crowds wildly applauding, its premiere fans jockeying into position, its naked appeals to our emotions, its clumsy sampling of the music from Vertigo, and the way it keeps telegraphing its techniques. Hazanavicius makes a fun reference to the famous marital montage of Citizen Kane when George's relationship with his wife dissolves, but we get to know Charles Foster Kane and his first wife well enough to understand why she gets sick of him. In contrast, the marriage in The Artist is never sufficiently explained. There's also a hint of the Citizen Kane projection scene when George first sees Doris (Penelope Miller) talk into a microphone, but again the homage just hangs there as one wonders why George is so quick to say "If that's the future, you can have it."
many give in to this giddy, slack-jawed wonder.