Annette is definitely unique (Picture: UGC Distribution/MUBI)
Annette is truly its own beast – a musical, a thriller and a whimsical romance with disturbingly dark undertones, all wrapped up in one slightly baffling package.
Make of that what you will, as the rock opera – for all its dazzling successes and frustrating indulgence – is sure to divide audiences.
From the minds of Ron and Russell Mael, aka pop duo Sparks, Annette tells the tale of an all-consuming relationship between edgy comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and feted opera singer Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), which results in the birth of their unusual baby daughter Annette.
And Annette is mostly played by a puppet because that is the type of film we are discussing, and yes, Adam Driver sings into Marion Cotillard’s vagina, because ditto.
Holy Motors director Leos Carax is at the helm of this musical, which in its best moments truly soars but equally sputters during slower sections.
The opening scene is a doozy, very much setting the tone for the rest of the film as the main cast, supporting ensemble and Sparks team up together to deliver fourth wall-breaking ‘introduction’ number, the extremely catchy So May We Start.
Annette’s ensemble performs So May We Start (Picture: UGC Distribution/MUBI)
As that suggests, Annette basks in the unsubtle, and enjoys its role as an obvious pastiche of musicals best in the songs We Love Each Other So Much and I’m an Accompanist. In these instances, the characters literally narrate, very seriously, what they are doing and how they are feeling at that exact moment. If ironic self-awareness isn’t your cup of tea, then it’s unlikely Annette will be either.
The film’s music is wonderfully eclectic, spanning rock, opera, electronic and pop, and provides some good earworms, but occasionally the simplicity of some of the lyrics is distracting and borders on the, well, naff.
The cast without fail is exceptional, as is likely expected at this stage from both Marriage Story’s Driver and La Vie en Rose’s Cotillard, but Simon Helberg excels as The Accompanist, leaving the turtlenecks he wore as The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz for 12 years truly in the dust. He’s still funny, but in a much more knowing and mature way than previous roles have allowed him to be. Plus, he really does know his way around a piano (remember him in Florence Foster Jenkins?), so that’s a nice bonus.
All three have good voices and get to play around with the greater emotional delivery that comes of live recording on set, with a bit of a boost in Cotillard’s case in post-production from opera singer Catherine Trottmann.
As the tumultuous main couple, Driver (bar the odd aside) and Cotillard play it dead straight and are totally invested in this decision, despite the melodramatic and sometimes bizarre trappings of the rest of Annette.
Cotillard’s part leans a little too far into neglected wife category, but she is heartbreakingly delicate in her performance. Driver absolutely convinces as an Avant Garde comedian being unravelled by jealousy, although the film’s insistence on showing too much of his experimental set as a comedian sees it veer into indulgent and – bluntly – boring territory.
Annette herself is just a little bit creepy, being a puppet and all, but if you’ve suspended your disbelief this far, keep going! It takes a good while to get to her birth, which is the main thrust of the film’s plot, but even then, there’s no great hurry to reveal her special talent.
Adam Driver powers the film, but his uncomfortable comedy sets drag (Picture: UGC Distribution/MUBI)
Marion Cotillard’s part is rather one-dimensional but she is fabulous (Picture: UGC Distribution/MUBI)
This is the film’s major issue – when it’s slow, it’s painfully slow, moving at a glacial pace at times. It can sometimes make sense for the music and character development, but on other occasions it’s self-indulgent in its shots and meandering. The run time is two hours and 20 minutes, 30 minutes of which could be happily chopped as it bloats in the middle.
There is good plot, and a nippy third act, but you have to sit through a lot to get there and be in a patient mood.
Ultimately, Annette as a film will not be to everyone’s tastes, and for everyone it delights there will be another viewer ready to give up halfway through.
Annette is released in cinemas on September 3 and streams on MUBI from November 26.
Credit: Original article published here.