james debate
james debate

Saturday 18 September 2021

Directed by Leos Carax
Written by Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Leos Carax
Produced by Charles Gillibert, Adam Driver, Vacharasinthu, Paul-Dominique Win
Starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg
Studio Amazon
Running time 140 minutes

annette 2021 musical film broadway adam driver sparks mael marion cotillard oscars
I am honestly not sure if I can give this film a meaningful score out of five. This is the sort of film where you could have two perfectly reasonable and insightful people of good taste, one who thinks the film is extraordinary, the other that the film is hot garbage, and they would both be right.

Annette is a musical film written (and with cameo performances) by Sparks, a 1970s rock band probably best known for their bizarre stage personae and this song. On paper, it's a strange duo to be in charge of a major motion picture, and in Leos Carax they have found a director who can craft an equally strange film.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard play a celebrity power couple, he an acerbic stand up comedian, she a renowned opera star. Tragedy strikes and shortly afterwards their child Annette, portrayed bizarrely by a marionette on strings, gains the supernatural ability to sing like her mother. All kinds of crazy shenanigans ensue. 

There is a lot going on that makes Annette such an unusual, surreal film, even aside from the aforementioned marionette. This is a film that features, among other things, ghosts, a musical sex scene, and constant fourth wall breaking. This is a supremely melodramatic, over the top, rock opera. It is a strange combination of knowingly camp, but produced with the artistic flair of a more serious film (not entirely unlike the ill-fitted pairing of Driver's trashy comedian to Cotillard's sophisticated singer). In many ways, this feels more like watching a theatrical production than a film. We are used to seeing the avant-garde and surreal on stage, but less so in a big budget film. Often the staging feels like something designed for Broadway with the way scenes unfold and how the actors address the audience. I suspect that many of the things here that strike a cinema audience as unusual probably would not look out of place on the West End.

Despite its sillier elements, the quality of production is very high. Visually, Annette is a treat with some very striking cinematography and memorable set pieces. The music is also generally very good, although the fourth wall breaking lyrics get quite irritating after a while, as does the heavy use of repetition. For the first one or two songs it can pass as quirky and mildly humorous, but when you're an hour into the musical and every song does the same schtick, it's a bit much.

Adam Driver's performance is exceptional in his intensity and brutality. Driver has a non-traditional physical appearance and carries himself with a unique physicality that makes him one of the more interesting actors in Hollywood right now. By contrast, Cotillard seems to be a bit under-utilised in this role but still manages to haunt each scene (in more ways than one) with her inimitable presence. 

Annette is a strange film, one that is very difficult to evaluate in any meaningful sense. It's an ambitious, sprawling mess at times, yet executed with undeniable artistry and panache. There are moments watching this film where I feel as though the producers are shooting for the awards season and others where it seems that they are instead trying to craft the next gonzo Rocky Horror Picture Show style cult classic. A film of excesses that is meant to be watched in groups at raucous late night screenings. The impression I am left with at the end is that of a muddled piece of work that probably doesn't fully succeed in hitting either of those targets, but genuinely doesn't seem to care.

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