Film Review: Annette

STUDIO: Amazon Studios | DIRECTOR: Leos Carax | CAST: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Anaïs Dahl
RELEASE DATE: Aug. 13, 2021; STREAMING RELEASE DATE: Aug. 20, 2021
SPECS: R | 124 min. | Musical drama romance

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie

It should come as no surprise to audiences that when an eclectic, experimental music group like Sparks joins forces with an eclectic, experimental filmmaker like France’s Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge, Holy Motors) that the result would be an eclectic, experimental film times two.

But one could say that Annette, the new collaboration between all three parties (Sparks’ siblings Russell and Ron Mael, who provided the music and the script, plus Carax), takes this calculation several steps further. At the opening film of the recent Cannes Film Festival, the movie was met with applause and jeers, an understandable reaction from a much divided audience.

Can one can be appreciative of the daring efforts of all involved yet dislike the film?

Well, that’s the case here.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in Annette

Annette stars Adam Driver (The Dead Don’t Die) as a motorcycle-riding shock comic whose nihilistic view of the world has made him a sensation performing a one-man interactive show called “The Ape of God” in a Los Angeles theater. Driver has a romantic alliance with sweet opera star soprano Marion Cotillard (Ismael’s Ghosts), and after a whirlwind romance covered closely by the entertainment media, the two have a baby. The kid is named Annette and happens to be a presented as a wooden marionette who, we later discover, has a voice as sweet as her mother’s.

Of course, things don’t end happily after, as a flurry of dark events taint the couple’s lives and this  fanciful scenario.  A group of women level #MeToo accusations against Driver, while his relationship with Cottilard goes dangerously sour. Then, there’s the revelation that the opera star once had an affair with her accompanist Simon Helberg (TV’s The Big Bang Theory) while Driver turns Svengali and tries to turn his young offspring into a singing sensation.

Oh, did we mention that most of the film is presented like a rock opera with Carax staging much of the overly dramatic portions of the film as elaborate, artificial set pieces while the principals sing Sparks’ quirky but often off-putting repetitive songs throughout?

Give Carax and his musical partners– recently featured in Edgar Wright’s terrific documentary The Sparks Brothers— points for their audaciousness, but the stylishly downbeat shenanigans go on for 140 exhausting minutes. Despite the surfeit of audio and visual flourishes, there’s an emptiness to the proceedings and a lack of feeling between and for its characters.

Other than an overblown mediation on fame, what does Annette all add up to?

We’re not sure, but if you want to see Adam Driver belting it out while pleasuring Marian Cotillard with oral sex, you’ve come to the right movie.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.