Annette film review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 16th, 2021  

Annette

Studio: Amazon Studios
Director: Leos Carax

Aug 17, 2021 Web Exclusive
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The opening night film of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Annette is a wild musical fantasy written by Ron and Russell Mael, the brothers who make up the band Sparks. Annette is the first foray into screenwriting for the two, arriving fresh after the release of Edgar Wright’s documentary about them, The Sparks Brothers.

Annette centers around a romantic relationship between Henry (Adam Driver), a stand-up comedian, and Ann (Marion Cotillard), an opera singer. The two are both famed in their respective fields, packing the house for every single one of their performances. The pair’s love for each other shines in everything they do. This is showcased by Henry constantly visiting and picking up Ann after her performances. It is also shown in scenes depicting the duo’s intimate moments with each other, far away from the flash of the paparazzi.

Their idyllic relationship starts caving in when Ann becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child, Annette (played by a purposefully creepy Chucky doppelgänger puppet for most of the film). As Henry becomes more and more unstable, his comedy career does as well. The audiences that once laughed at every joke of his have resorted to boos and jeers when his performance quickly pivots from “funny” to sickening. Things begin to turn even more peculiar when Henry discovers Annette’s unique talent, changing the lives of everyone involved.

Annette often feels like less of a film and more of a wavelength. You either have to get on board and buy into what’s happening or just turn it off before the story unfolds in even more unexpected ways. In fact, before the rocking opening number, a voice-over from director Leos Carax even instructs viewers to buckle up and “to hold your breath ‘till the very end of the show.” The film’s wacky conceit and inherent inaccessibility simultaneously detracts from yet supports the film.

In the film’s first half, the directionless nature of Annette and the film’s lack of identity is incredibly frustrating. The script’s obvious and upfront satire, empty and incomplete main characters, and inconsistent pacing all make the film difficult to sit through. The rapid-fire storytelling, bouncing from one insane plot point to the next without giving the audience much time to recover, feels disorienting and somewhat unrewarding. Thankfully, these early issues don’t last for the entire film. It’s near the halfway mark where things finally click into place, and the misguided yet oddly satisfying nature of the Maels’ script, Carax’s direction and Driver’s performance really come to fruition.

While some may prefer the first half’s frantic energy, the somewhat calmer second half of Annette felt like a reward for making it through the initial chaos. In its final 70 minutes, the film feels grounded and knows what it wants to be. This is most likely due to the choice to focus on a single, more cohesive plot line rather than a continuation of the “throw ideas to the wall and see what sticks’’ storytelling approach. Sure, everything happening on screen may still be absolutely bonkers, but it feels purposeful. Among other things, Annette is a film about the instability of art, performance, and power. The film may take too long to arrive at those conclusions, but once the entire story plays out, it becomes easier to appreciate (and maybe even willingly revisit) the events of the first half.

The most consistent part of Annette is, unsurprisingly, Adam Driver’s performance. The Academy Award-nominated actor shines throughout the entire film, bringing Henry’s character to life in a way that is both drawn back and over-exaggerated when the script calls for it. Cotillard and supporting actor Simon Helberg are also great, again without surprise. Their characters are written more like accessories to Henry and his story though, so the two aren’t given as much time or leeway to truly shine.

Out of the two Sparks-involved films released this year, Annette probably won’t be the one that wins the band more fans. Regardless, one has to respect the sheer audacity of a film like this. It’s not very often these days that a film just sets everything aside and goes for it. A good amount of it may not work, and the 140-minute run time could have been trimmed, but the things in the film that do succeed do so surprisingly well, making Annette somewhat successful even if it’s an unsatisfying experiment. (www.annettethefilm.com)

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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