Amazon Prime Video
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Leos Carax
Writer: Ron Mael and Russell Mael
Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell
Screened at: Critics’ link, LA, 8/4/21
Opens: August 6th, 2021 (Theaters) / August 20th, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)
Musicals can be very creative in the way that they engage with storytelling. As opposed to presenting a straightforward story where characters communicate only by speaking with each other and through visible actions, song and dance numbers can help to externalize the inner feelings that would otherwise remain unknown to the audience. It can be extraordinarily eye-opening when it comes to relationships and the impact of interactions, though of course not all musicals are created equal or take the same approach to their narratives. Annette is an intriguing, unique specimen, a concept that doesn’t immediately seem fit for this structure but delivers a memorable experience whose effects are difficult to shake.
Henry (Adam Driver) is a comedian and Ann (Marion Cotillard) is an opera singer, and they’re a hot couple whose romance tabloids are eager to cover. The birth of their daughter, Annette, reveals new layers to the way that they relate to one another, and the darker side of Henry’s routines come to light when he is accused of sexual misconduct by several women. With the help of a passionate conductor (Simon Helberg), the legacy of these two stars is shared through the unexpected and seemingly impossible talent of their young offspring.
This film gets off to an energetic, distinctive start with the performance of the song “So May We Start” that is exactly what it claims to be, an invitation to those watching to begin the film. The characters all join together to walk through the streets and set the mood. Later numbers include the haunting “We Love Each Other So Much,” which expresses the complicated intricacies of the connection Henry and Ann share that includes radically opposite highs and lows, and even a musical rendition of the accusations leveled against Henry and the subsequent police questioning he undergoes entitled “Six Women Have Come Forward.”
The memorable tunes by Ron and Russell Mael, also known by their band name, Sparks, help to ground and guide a fantastical story about power and fame. The music helps to both alleviate and enhance tension, especially when it comes to the destructive nature of Henry’s personality, expressed most horrifyingly on stage when, even when charges of violence and abuse have been publicly leveled against him, he includes such material in his act that paint him as anything but innocent or remorseful. It also draws out the tragic components of the story, perceived most powerfully by the conductor as an extension of baby Annette, who is portrayed not by a human actor but instead by a marionette.
How this film was conceived and constructed is a mystery that will surely never be answered without a trip straight into the mind of the Mael brothers and director Leos Carax, best known for Holy Motors. The finished product, however it came to be, is certainly fascinating, extracting an unforgettable meditation on how society perceives talent and celebrity and accepts certain shortcomings or missing information as perfectly fine despite clear warning signs. Some narrative and editing choices are peculiar, and the film becomes gradually less captivating as it nears its grim end.
Driver and Cotillard, however, are exceptionally well-suited for their roles, bringing with them established histories of the characters they frequently play and natural musical talent. Helberg, known for more comedic supporting parts in The Big Bang Theory and Florence Foster Jenkins, stands out as the closest thing to a responsible member of the audience trying his best to effect change when he is not one of the star players. Responses to this film will absolutely be divisive, but it possesses a particular quality of originality that isn’t found frequently these days, even if the end result is often more mind-boggling and unsettling than entirely resounding.
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B