Director: Leos Carax
Writer: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Leos Carax
Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg and Devyn McDowell,
Annette has taken a long time to reach our screens. Sparks have working on the film for years, with many cast changes along the way. The latest delay has been put down to Adam Driver’s work in Star Wars pushing back production, combined with the pandemic. After being shown at Cannes earlier in the year to outstanding praise, it has finally been released in the cinema in the UK with a planned release on the MUBI steaming service later in the year.
Adam Driver, who is having a busy year with The Last Duel and House of Gucci being released in the next few weeks, stars as Henry McHenry, a stand up comedian with an edge. Henry has fallen madly in love with Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), although he openly mocks her performances as part of his routine. They quickly marry and have a child, Annette. Henry’s career starts to decline, while Ann’s prospers, and his resentment grows.
The main thing with any musical is the music, and Annette has a real mixed bag. This isn’t the type of musical that will get a sing-a-long version, it even tells you not to sing in a voiceover at the start, the songs are repetitive and minimalist in lyrics, although the music is great. The first song, which features the cast, writers Sparks and director Leos Carax asking us ‘so, may we start?’, is catchy and will be stuck in your head for the rest of the film and beyond. It’s a real shame that the best song happens straight away, before the narrative of the film has even really started. There are some other good songs, such as ‘we love each other so much’, with a great guitar change halfway through, but for the most part the songs are lacking something to make them special. They are there to tell the story, but this isn’t a soundtrack to have on repeat.
The story is hypnotic with long stretches where not a lot is happening, but it’s never boring. This is all through Adam Drivers stunning performance. He’s intense, self-absorbed and dangerous. Henry is struggling with his career. The first time we see him on stage, we don’t see his performance, instead we get a monologue of how he’s feeling about his life and how he sees his tried and tested routine, with the audience laughing when they should, as if it was a hilarious routine. Later when he has a minor meltdown on stage with a new routine, no one laughs. Whatever magic propelled him to stardom has left.
The strange stage show, along with the opening song with the actors out of character, are the first moments that show Carax’s strange and weird side. Nothing is quite what it seems. It’s not as hard to crack as something like Synecdoche, New York, but it is definitely going to be off-putting for some. Annette is presented as a puppet, showing Henry’s detachment from her and seeing her as something only to gain more success and Ann’s own uses for her daughter (which would be going into spoiler territory).
Annette isn’t a spectacular film, the best song is used to early and the rest aren’t that great. It has a lot of mesmerising qualities, but the film feels really flabby and could do with being timed down. It’s a strange and cinematic experience and it’s something that you’re either going to love or hate and either way you’re going to have a strong reaction. This isn’t going to be something you are going to forget quickly.