December 28, 2021 Annette (Movie Review)
Is it better to be polarizing or universally praised? There is something to be said about a piece of art so unapologetically itself that it can inspire such strong feelings one way or another. Leos Carax’s (The Lovers on the Bridge 1991, Holy Motors 2012) latest offering Annette is one such film. It is a bizarre, unique Rock Opera that is equal parts subtle Horror and over-the top melodrama. Starring Adam Driver (Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi 2017, Marriage Story 2019), Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose 2007, Inception 2010), and Simon Helberg (Florence Foster Jenkins 2006, The Big Bang Theory series), Annette is a film that will have you asking yourself “wait, what?” for the majority of its massive 141 runtime, but the answer is up to you. Artpop duo Sparks, comprised of brothers Ron and Russell Mael, offer up a story told in song that will leave you pondering long after the credits roll. After making waves at the Cannes Film Festival, this wild ride is now available to watch at home in the U.S. starting August 20, 2021 thanks to distribution by Amazon Studios.
Driver, in one of his most out-there roles, stars as self-loathing superstar Comedian Henry McHenry. Henry quickly develops a whirlwind romance with beloved opera star Ann Defasnoux (Cotillard), and their relationship splashes all over celebrity tabloids. When the couple’s daughter, Annette, is brought into the world, the couple realizes her destiny is much greater than anything they could have imagined.
If nothing else, this film is self-aware. Over a darkened screen, a narrator asks the audience to keep any feelings “in your head. Only in your head,” and intones that “breathing will not be tolerated during the show.” This sets the tone right away, and the film rushes into its opening musical number “So May We Start.”
Shot in what seems to be one excellently choreographed take, this is easily the best and most memorable track in the entire movie. While misleading in that it doesn’t have much to do with the story itself, “So May We Start” showcases that its performers, trained or not, can handle their own vocals. This track sets the audience up to believe that they might be in for a run-of-the-mill Musical, but what unfolds is anything but.
Despite the film’s name, the titular Annette does not actually make an appearance until about 40 minutes in to a song entitled “She’s Out of This World!” That title takes on several layers of meaning once we finally lay eyes on Annette. Annette defies description, and her first appearance is best experienced as a surprise. With her birth, the film takes a turn toward the uncanny. As the Romance begins to fall away, what is left is an unsettling portrayal of celebrity, greed, and selfishness.
The film tries to be so many things at once that it mostly defies definition, but every confounding turn in Anette shows that Carax is fearless when it comes to taking risks. It is often difficult to tell whether or not the film is being ironic, or whether we should laugh, cry, or be afraid. The correct response maybe all those things at once, or perhaps none at all. Were it not for absolutely outstanding performances by Driver, Cotillard, and Helberg, this film’s biggest risks would have no reward.
Overall, Annette is a film you will either love or loathe, but there is no denying Carax’s sense of style or its stars’ acting chops. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Annette 3 out of 5 stars.