(director/writer: Leos Carax; screenwriters: story and screenwriting by Ron Mael & Russell Mael; cinematographer: Caroline Champetier; editor: Nelly Quettier; music: Ron Mael & Russell Mael; cast: Adam Driver (Henry McHenry), Marion Cotillard (Ann Defrasnoux), Simon Helberg (The Accompanionist), Angèle (Six Women Member), Anaïs Dahl (Lucy), Devyn McDowell (), Russell Mael (Jet Pilot), Ron Mael (Jet Pilot), Rebecca Dyson-Smith (Annette in prison); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Charles Gillibert, Paul-Dominique Win Vacharasinthu: Amazon Studios; 2021-rance-Mexico-U.S.-Switzerland-Belgium-Japan-Germany-in English)
“An acquired taste.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The bizarre and tragic musical, an acquired taste, filled with much sexual activity, is the first English-language film of the cult French director Leos Carax (“The Lovers on the Bridge”/”Boy Meets Girl”) and his first film since “Holy Motors” in 2012. He won Best Director at Cannes.
Annette is based on the pop musical story by Ron Mael & Russell Mael (the cult band Sparks), which might be beguiling but the non-traditional musical is also needlessly absurd. This is Carax’s sixth movie in his forty- year career and the first he didn’t write.
Henry (Adam Driver) is an awful person. He rides a motorcycle and is a top comedian in LA, who is hostile in his self-loathing standup comedy routine, which he does as if a boxer and takes the name “The Ape of God” (Driver gives an outstanding performance when doing his comic act and just gets by with his singing part–as Carax is not that concerned with musical perfection). Ann (Marion Cotillard) is a beautiful soprano diva opera singer, with lots of charisma, known for singing death arias (she has the lesser part than Driver, but acquits herself well despite playing such a blank character). They are superstars in their respective fields and lovers locked in a stormy relationship, who marry, even if opposites, and have a child named Annette (who is viewed as a a wooden marionette puppet). At age two they notice she has the special gift of singing with mom’s same beautiful voice.
Though the story-line is preposterous, the arty director takes it seriously and with gusto points out how phony things are in Hollywood (where he sets the film).
The film has two showstopping numbers: its grand opening, featuring the entire cast, gives us the “So May We Start” number and the other highlight is a hypnotic call-and-response sing-song between Henry and his audience. In one of its more shallow moments, Henry arises from cunnilingus to sing the romantic song “We Love Each Other So Much.”
Of the supporting characters, the one played by Simon Helberg has the most impact. He plays the underappreciated talented opera conductor, who not so secretly loves Ann.
Though I was not in love with this messy musical as a musical, I still admired it for Driver’s riveting performance, its great technical strengths and for courageously (if not wisely) keeping its weirdness intact (the puppet as a substitute for the daughter was creepy but well-done). Its critique of the media, railing against Hollywood gossip mongers and telling us of the price of fame, offered us only the usual Hollywood reflections on such matters. In this shallow but overwhelmingly stylish film, Carax never moved me like most of his other films did.
Maybe a film doesn’t have to make sense or be emotionally fulfilling to be liked, but I guess I would have liked it more if it made more sense and I cared more about the characters.
REVIEWED ON 8/24/2021 GRADE: B-