Expectations are dangerous. There can be little more damaging to how much you enjoy a film than actually hearing about its quality before you see it. To be told that a film is terrible before viewing is to plant seeds of doubt, even for the most level-headed of cinemagoers. The same works in reverse, too: if you hear that a film is amazing then at best it will only be able to meet that expectation. At worst, it will provoke a negative reaction against a film that has committed the crime of being merely very good. Hype can only bring disappointment.
Call this the King’s Speech theory. An enjoyable, if not especially remarkable film, the experience of watching The King’s Speech for latecomers must have been soured by the attendant hype and its long road to the Oscars. Instead of being pleasantly surprised by an entertaining, well-made film, they may have wondered just what the fuss was all about.
The journey of a film from surprise hit to awards season darling to critical backlash is a depressingly familiar one. It’s a journey that’s possible to glimpse in the future of The Artist. One of the most purely enjoyable films to show at this year’s London Film Festival, The Artist is a valentine to the silent era of Hollywood. A story about a film star (Jean Dujardin) who suddenly becomes undesirable in the age of talkies, it’s a funny, warm, beautifully crafted film. Despite being black-and-white and virtually dialogue-free, The Artist is so shamelessly entertaining that a wide audience seems assured. It’s the sort of film that has the chance to be a sleeper word-of-mouth hit along the lines of something like Amelie, and yet that’s also the problem.
Sometimes when something reaches a certain level of success a natural instinct is to rebel against it, and it’s easy to see how one might start to feel that way about The Artist months down the line when your grandmother has gone to see it and you keep hearing it mentioned in checkout queues. The film isn’t perfect, mostly due a second act that drags out longer than it should, and as such it wouldn’t be difficult to be disappointed by too much hype, rather than enjoying it on its own merits. If anything, the Festival was the perfect time to appreciate it, when there were suggestions of something special but not the weight of expectation that is likely to come.
Of course, nothing is certain and perhaps the film won’t click with the public in the way that it promises to. That would be a shame. The Artist is a film whose only goal is to please its audience, and it’s very good at doing this. Joyfulness is an underrated quality, and perhaps eventual oversaturation is a small price to pay in order to obtain some of it.