ANNETTE is directed by Leos Carax. The film stars Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, and Devyn McDowell. The screenplay/musical arrangements are by Ron and Russell Mael of the group Sparks, who also appear in the film.
Henry McHenry is an eccentric motorcycle-bound comedian with his career in a decline who falls into a whirlwind romance with Ann Defrasnoux, a successful opera singer. It’s not long before the twosome is a regular headline of tabloid television news programming. Things spiral wildly out of control when their baby girl, Annette, is born, who is found to possess a talent for singing. But will the family live happily ever after, or does fate have other plans?
ANNETTE follows THE SPARKS BROTHERS documentary about Ron and Russel Mael’s career history; the two brothers have been active in the music business over the course of over half a century, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up in 2021! Unfortunately, their relationship with the film industry hasn’t always been a success. They appeared in the 70s film ROLLER COASTER, which they later regretted. They were offered the opportunity to compose music for a film adaptation of the anime/manga series MAI THE PSYCHIC GIRL which never came to fruition. They’d made plans to collaborate with other filmmakers but nothing came of those either. The documentary on the group earlier this year has shed new light on them and their music, and collaborating with director Leos Carax in his English-language debut certainly seems like a promising prospect. Is ANNETE, which has already been making waves at Cannes, the feature film project masterpiece the group has needed for so very long?
ANNETTE is no masterpiece, but portions of it are. While the movie has some issues, mainly in the pacing and storytelling departments, there’s no denying parts of it are done exceptionally well, and it may be worth checking out for the curious.
ANNETTE is an unholy hodgepodge that feels like something what you’d get if you threw A STAR IS BORN, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, and ERASERHEAD in a blender. If you’d told me I’d one day be watching a movie where Kylo Ren and Talia Al Ghul gave birth to a baby resembling the title character from ALITA BATTLE ANGEL, I’d never have believed it. The film tries to explore a lot of territory with mixed results, but odds are good much of what I saw in this film won’t be leaving my head anytime soon, if ever.
The two leads are perfectly cast, and hearing them do their own singing despite not being professional singers by trade is certainly an interesting element. While Cotillard has a beautiful and soothing presence, and the film is called ANNETTE, this movie belongs to Adam Driver. His portrayal of a tortured comedian with declining popularity and a whirlwind romance is generally the focal point of the film, and rightfully so. Seeing what he struggles with is what brings this story to life, and it makes what's to come in the story's final minutes all the more impactful (no spoilers here though).
The movie also makes the decision of using television tabloid excerpts to tell the story in places, which makes for a nice contrast with the scenes we see of the family together. As such, it gives us two points of view; the public and private ones. This is a surprisingly effective storytelling technique, simple and to the point. The atmospherics and settings are just as memorable, shifting from performance stages and major metropolitan areas to surreal landscapes that look like something out of an Ingmar Bergman film. When ANNETTE is at its most visually alluring, you can’t take your eyes off it.
Unfortunately, the film is far from perfect despite its ambition, and it’s these elements that may detract more mainstream moviegoers from attending. The songwriting and performance sequences are great, due in no small part to the involvement of Ron and Russell Mael as well as the leads who perform their own singing, but the film clocks in at a whopping 140 minutes, despite the fact that this tale could easily have been half an hour shorter. The pacing also has many problems. Henry’s on-stage (and surprisingly unfunny) comedy sequences on stage drag on forever, yet far less time is spent covering more dramatic and tragic events that are a major part of the plot. It’s definitely not a film for mainstream audiences, and awkward pacing and an overlong running time don’t help the case for the film any in that regard.
That said, I liked ANNETTE. I was enthralled by its musical performances, the charisma and strength of its two leads, the beautiful scenery and atmospheres offered by the film, and the overall experience that only the Brothers Mael could create. Will I ever watch it again? I'm not sure, but I’ll be first in line to by the soundtrack when it’s released on vinyl. The film runs far too long and the awkward pacing doesn’t help things any, but when it’s at its best, ANNETTE is a strong film. Worth checking out for the curious.