Table of Contents
Overview: So May We Start?
There is so much to be said about Leos Carax’s American musical drama, ‘Annette’, that it’s hard to even know where to begin. Adam Driver’s character, Henry McHenry, is committed to making audiences die of laughter, while Ann Defrasnoux – played by Marion Cotillard – brings them to life with the radiance of her voice. They embark on a whirlwind romance, navigating their conflicting career trajectories and subsequent neuroses after the birth of their extraordinary baby girl, Annette. What begins as a story of unlikely love and tenderness ends in pure angst when Henry starts to question not only his career, but the nature of their marriage.
‘Annette’ – Pros: “Yes, Laugh, Laugh, Laugh”
Adam Driver in the role of Henry McHenry – also known by his stage name ‘The Ape of God’ – continues to stretch the range of his filmography to the limit. While audiences are no longer a stranger to Driver as one half of a complicated marriage after his starring appearance in ‘Marriage Story’, this role has a tinge of true cynicism. He grips audiences by the throat, casting shades of deep green over the entire film, and doesn’t release them until the credits roll. He clearly studied the idiosyncrasies of stand-up comedians and utilized them in Henry’s stand-up performance scenes, apathetically pacing around the stage, spewing social commentary amid outbursts of energy and song, similar to the style of Bo Burnham.
The tension builds here, and Carax’s vision of the audience comes into focus as we watch – in horror – as Henry breaks down and they laugh, laugh, laugh. He rages beyond his own blurred boundaries and within him, we may see some pieces of men that we know. Marion Cotillard is as radiant as ever, shining as the central character of seemingly every opera, “dying and dying and dying; bowing, bowing, bowing”, as Henry describes it. Driver still seems to emotionally dwarf her throughout, with his depth seeming to expand so much farther than hers. Their love is unlikely; tender; but a catalyst for Henry’s harshness to come.
Carax utilizes a rear-projection feature throughout the film, giving audiences a sense of the way that these ideas overlap; the way a character’s mental images might merge with the reality of their present. The colors are ever-present, with the highlights, lowlights, spotlights soaked in shades of neon, or the dim glow of sun or moonlight. There’s a Lynchian feel here a-la the dreamlike glamour of ‘Mulholland Drive’. The composition of the scenes is vaguely satirical, with interjections for tabloid news segments rife with slow-mo paparazzi shots as a means to update us on not only the story, but the presence of our characters as a celebrity couple. Then, there’s the audience. They sit, and stare on, and sing in chorus. They wonder, they ask questions, but mostly, they react, as we do. This invasive, voyeuristic perspective is perfect for this tale of angst between two famous lovers and their child.
Annette herself is strange and exceptional. Audiences will wait with bated breath for the reveal of Ann and Henry’s child, and they will be met with something bizarrely worthwhile. She is special; a symbol for those children caught between and haunted by the destructive tendencies of their parents. To say anything more is to spoil one of the most interesting parts of the film, so I’ll just leave it at that.
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Cons: “We Love Eachother So Much”
This is a musical, through and through, with very few spoken lines and each scene blending across the other with brief transitory periods before the next song. Whether this is good or bad is certainly a decision of personal taste, but I honestly felt like the music was far more repetitive and deeply (exhaustingly) literal than some of your typical swinging show tunes. However, this is surely a mark of the Sparks brothers – Ron and Russell Mael – who wrote the original music for the film and have always had an affinity for the quirky. In fact, this project was conceived for a new Sparks album rather than a film, but after meeting Carax, they embarked on a shared creative vision for ‘Annette’. Though the cadence of their score took time to get used to, it does ultimately make sense in this realm of absurdism that they’ve created for these characters.
While Simon Helberg gives an impassioned performance as The Conductor, I felt that his introduction and integration to the story was clumsy, with him shifting in and out of relevance once the plot needs him but without many nuances. Luckily, this stiltedness is later dissolved while he and Driver share the screen with great chemistry.
Final Thoughts: “We’ve Washed Ashore”
‘Annette’ is a surreal journey through the perils of love, fame, death, and performance. It’s absurd, simultaneously comically self-aware and completely convinced of its own drama. The whole thing feels so experimental, which lends an air of messiness and inconsistency at times; but the core of this film is within Driver and Cotillard’s committed performances, showing us – with all the grandiosity of the surreal – not only the flawed people that we see in magazines, but the flawed lovers within us and the strange, dark tales that become of them.
Audiences can look forward to seeing Adam Driver in a new historical drama film releasing later this year titled ‘The Last Duel’, directed by Ridley Scott. Marion Cotillard is starring as the voice of Charlotte Salomon alongside Keira Knightley in ‘Charlotte’ set to release in September of this year.
Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell.
Director: Leos Carax | Screenwriter(s): Ron Mael, Russell Mael, and Leos Carax | Editor: Nelly Quettier | Music/Composer: Ron Mael and Russel Mael | Cinematographer: Caroline Champetier
By Grace Smith
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Grace Smith is a film critic and writer with 21 years of formative film exposure under her belt – and a focused interest in horror, surrealism, and substantial Cinema. Grace is passionate about The Hollywood Insider’s mission towards thoughtful and innovative media that expands audience perspectives towards entertainment. As a young writer and film-lover, Grace hopes to inspire readers towards not only broadening their horizons when it comes to cinematic media, but also raising their expectations.