2021 | R | starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg | directed by Leos Carax | 2 hrs 21 mins |
Annette is the type of experimental movie that so aggressively wants to be called Original that it will beat the audience into submission to get there. A piece of self-indulgent, anti-entertainment that becomes a parody of itself long before it’s unfathomable 2.5 hour running time comes to a close, conjured up from high inside the rectum of director Leos Carax seemingly for the sole purpose of watching befuddle LA high society types pretend they liked it for indie cred at dinner parties. This is the kind of nonsense that Manhattan theater hipsters would be putting together in a Noah Baumbach movie as a parody of Manhattan theater hipsters.
Our story follows Henry McHenry (Adam Driver), a bad boy comedian with Howard Stern hair whose wildly popular act is part musical, part one-man-show and part burned out meta comedy, who falls in love with opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard, getting short shrifted at every turn of the screenplay). The subject of constant celebrity gossip, the celebrity couple have a baby, Annette, who possesses an exceptional, supernatural gift, and with the help of Ann’s long-suffering Accompanist (Simon Helberg) exploit that child on a global stage.
First and foremost, Annette is an opera. This affords Carax’s writers and musicians Ron and Russell Mael the challenge to – not compose a handful of catchy songs – but fill the entire running time with the characters a-melodically singing their every thought and motivation to us. The opening number involving the musicians unplugging their instruments, leaving the studio and joining the actors in a casting call in the street is set to “Can We Start” in which they begin the story by ironically beginning the story. We learn that Ann and Henry love each other so much because they sing a 5 minutes song over a montage of hand-holding and love-making that simply consists of the lyric “We love each other so much” ad nauseum. It’s here where any admiration one may give the film for it’s original ambition gets scraped off and lost to basic movie-making. Underneath it, a movie with no ideas, that tells and tells and tells, rather than shows.
If you’re starting to feel a tinge of guilt for constantly wanting to see something different, but reacting to this movie as if it’s too different, fear not, even good experimental cinema regularly entertains or enlightens. If this were a, say, Charlie Kaufman movie it would be challenging us with form and function and disagreeable characters and it would still satisfy. It would look good, instead of just odd. It would leave the audience with a bit of mystery to decipher ourselves without beating us over the head with everyone’s innermost thoughts. Pretending this is a character piece, Henry McHenry’s arc doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, going from love-struck Hollywood burnout to opportunistic Dadager for his child to become the very corporate hack he supposedly despised is an arc that both seems entirely random and out of the very little of his character that we do know about.
Annette is not too weird, if anything for a movie to stand on weirdness alone, it’s not weird enough. It isn’t unique or original because it’s entirely told as a meta rock opera or that one of it’s main characters is a flying wooden marionette or that every other scene looks like it’s on a stage twisting the nature of the performer and the audience engaging with them. It’s just a pretentious, obnoxious mess. Well acted by Driver, to be sure – this guy gives 110% whether it’s a Star Wars movie or an art house film. The only rock opera that comes to mind for comparison in recent memory is Repo! The Genetic Opera – but that movie has a story and characters and catchy songs. None of which Annette has.