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TV/Film Reviews

Review: ‘Annette’ (dir. Leos Carax)

Annette is here just in time to kick off another year of Adam Driver. Yes, Annette is a musical, but leave the Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen type of musicals out of your mind going into this.

Annette opens in theaters August 6, and it is set to premiere on Amazon Prime Video on August 20. Set in Los Angeles, Adam Driver plays Henry, a stand-up comedian who falls in love with world-renowned opera singer Ann, played by Marion Cotillard. Together, they form a passionate and glamorous couple. With the birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious little girl with an exceptional destiny, their lives are turned upside down. Simon Helberg, known best for his 12-season run on CBS’ Big Bang Theory, plays The Conductor in a role unlike anything we’ve seen from him yet. Directed by Leos Carax (Holy Motors), with story & music by Sparks’ Ron & Russell Mael, Annette is a musical journey of love, passion, and fame.

Annette is here just in time to kick off another year of Adam Driver.

It feels like when Adam Driver is back with a new movie, you don’t just get one. They come in waves, so you get bombarded with a few Driver projects hitting at once. In 2017, he starred in The Meyerowitz Stories, Logan Lucky, and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Last Jedi, as well as the final season of Girls. A lighter year in 2018, BlacKkKlansman and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote came out, and he also hosted Saturday Night Live with a cameo on Bob’s Burgers. 2019 was arguably his biggest year yet with Marriage Story, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, and The Dead Don’t Die all premiering just a few months apart. 2021 is shaping up to be another packed year with Annette, The Last Duel, and House Gucci being released over a span of less than four months.

Yes, Annette is a musical, but leave the Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen type of musicals out of your mind going into this. The story and the performances are carried by the music, but I do not predict this soundtrack to propel any of its songs to the top of the charts. Memorable standouts that come to mind are the opener “May We Start” and the recurring song “We Love Each Other So Much,” both of which have been made available on streaming platforms already ahead of the film’s release.

Adam Driver’s character is giving a very Bo Burnham-esque stand up comedian performance, something I didn’t quite expect from this. Then again, nothing in this film does quite what you expected it to do. Adam Driver is almost always in his underwear and holding a cigarette. Although, that might be your thing.

Marion Cotillard is great in her role, and she adds a level of normalcy that balances out Driver’s outlandish character. Simon Helberg is great, and I’m excited to see more of what he does beyond the Big Bang Theory, but he only got a chance to show us a really small sample of what he can do in Annette.

The Sparks Brothers composed all of the music in the film, and if you know anything about the Sparks Brothers, you’ll immediately detect their specific sensibilities in the soundtrack. Edgar Wright’s documentary on The Sparks Brothers was released earlier this year, and I think that’s almost required viewing in order to understand the unconventional musicin Annette and where it’s coming from creatively. (Read my review of The Sparks Brothers to get a picture of who they are as artists.)

The main descriptor I have for Annette is odd. Another would be uncomfortable. It makes you feel uncomfortable. You can tell that Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard fully embraced the insanity and relinquished to the chaos, and that’s really the only reason this works on any level at all.

There’s a lot to take in here from the pace that feels at once rapid but also slow to the peculiar music. It’s a wild, absurd ride, so if you don’t typically like strange and artistic films, this may not work for you.

I struggled to connect with the characters on an emotional level. While I understand what Leos Carax is trying to do here, heart wasn’t part of that equation. Offbeat comedy is the only emotion at work here, besides perhaps love, and it works in its own peculiar way.

If you’re reading this review to find out about the film’s Oscar prospects, I don’t see this going anywhere near the Academy Awards. That’s not to say that I wholeheartedly dislike it any way, but it’s a little too off the beaten path for Oscar to nominate it.

Do you ever go to an art museum or see a striking painting that just has so much going on, and that’s what makes it a messy work of art? That’s what’s happening with Annette.

On screen, it reads almost like a play adaptation not just because of the music but also because the performative nature of Adam Driver’s character.

The nearly two-and-a-half runtime isn’t quite justified, and I think some edits could have been made to tidy the story up into a tighter package. With about thirty to forty minutes left, there’s a really interesting advancement in the plot, but I think the story would have benefited from having other twists like that one earlier on in the film.

Annette opens in theaters August 6, and it is set to premiere on Amazon Prime Video on August 20.

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