Written by: Ron Mael & Russell Mael
Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell
Delusional artists and their downfalls make for such engaging stories because we see them happen in such unique ways in our lived reality. It demonstrates a level of strangeness needed to succeed in the arts and how left unchecked can make for a concerning individual with far too much power. Ultimately, this dictates the story of Annette, but as one would expect, with a story crafted by Leos Carax, there would be some extra style to it that will either let you fully buy into the experience or reject it as a whole.
Controversial comedic performer, Henry (Adam Driver) gets into a whirlwind loving relationship with world-famous singer Ann (Marion Cotillard). Their relationship brings forth a little girl named Annette (Devyn McDowell). After a tragic incident on a boat, Henry must find a way to push forward with his own career and his daughter’s.
As a filmmaker, Leos Carax truly can be described as an acquired taste. His style can leave some audience members in complete befuddlement or cause aspiring awe. It all comes with getting on his wavelength and prior to Annette, the only feature of his I had experienced was Holy Motors. A feature that had a clear intention but gets delivered in such a strange and unnecessary manner that left me not being a fan whatsoever. With Annette he certainly makes a more accessible feature and with this sense of clarity nothing can get lost as this tragic story of jealousy and revenge leaves quite the impact.
Adam Driver’s Henry McHenry becomes the key as to whether individuals will vibe with this feature as it puts the aforementioned actor working on such different ground. Not only is he showing off his pipes within this musical, he plays such an unlikeable character that would make his Kylo Ren look fairly childish. A bitter jealousy growing inside him made him act in the worst ways as a human being and that’s all after his confusingly peculiar standup comedy routines that will most likely leave people scratching their heads. He remains the focal point of the entire feature and if audience members simply cannot at least maintain a level of fascination and intrigue as to where this character goes, perhaps the rest of the feature will not land. Especially considering when the appearance of the titular character appears.
Appearing as a wooden doll, the appearance of the titular character may weird audiences out but it works so well thematically for what the feature wants to represent through her. Everyone around her treats the child just like any other and the audience only experiences what it must be like for the young girl to witness trauma and have to work through it. One of Carax’s quirks and it works in every aspect of the film, especially in the efforts of giving it a distinct style.
With it being a musical and having the music come from the Sparks Brothers, some criticism will land on the vocal ability of the actors employed here. While Driver, Cotillard, and Helberg certainly do not fall into the category of the actors within Les Misérables and what they lacked but they also do not coat themselves in glory here either. Personally, I have no qualms with the employment of this seeing as these raw characters sing in not the prettiest way adds a level of fervor to the emotions I always appreciate. Makes it feel a bit more real and when Driver struggles to hit those high notes, they simply just hit differently. It also helps when they have some fun songs to go along with their musical abilities. From “We Love Each Other So Much” and “So May We Start,” they add to what makes so much of this quite the experience as a feature.
By all means, Annette tells a straightforward story with some incredible theatrics and the uniqueness coming from the Sparks Brothers in their music, the directorial choices of Carax, and the performances by all involved make this such an intriguing feature to experience. The flairs and theatrics in which this feature goes about to illustrate the emotional struggles and the way characters manipulate each other make for something so incredibly refreshing. This brand of Carax is certainly something I can entertain and he certainly won me over with this one.