Now playing in limited release, Annette is the latest film from French director Leos Carax (Holy Motors). It stars Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg.
It’s not often I’m left shocked by how bad a film is. Usually, when a film isn’t hitting for me, I just buckle down and finish it. It’s fine. There were some good moments. Write the review. Move on. I had to watch Annette in shifts. I dreaded going back to it each time. It was like sitting in the dentist’s chair, unable to move, with the dentist still trying to talk to you even though you both know you can’t hold a conversation, but it goes on for hours.
Dentist offices have bad music too.
Written and directed by Leos Carax, and starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, this musical film follows a stand-up comedian and an opera singer who discover their child, Annette, has a surprising gift. Annette is portrayed by a wooden marionette doll…for some reason.
Annette isn’t fun to watch. It’s barely digestible.
As a musical, Annette is all over the place. The music, from pop duo Sparks, all sounds the same, as if the characters are still singing the same song by the film’s end. There’s no knowledge gained from the lyrics, no insight into who our characters are. At one point, Driver’s Henry McHenry and Cotillard’s Ann sing that they “love each other so much,” set against a sequence of frequent sex and strolling down the street, gazing into each other’s eyes. What exactly did we gain from this?
The film can’t decide which lines should be sung and which lines should be spoken, so what we get is an odd mixture of singing and speaking throughout the whole film. It’s as if no thought process went into deciding the meaning behind why characters are acting this way and why it needs to be sung. Each time they begin to sing again it’s like they’re carrying on the same conversation from scenes before, but the lack of distinction means the audience gets lost in the character’s journey.
There are a few inspired moments, however. Henry as a stand up comedian isn’t very funny—his humor mostly comes from his provoking and inappropriate jokes. He’s one of those “no one else was going to say it” kind of comedians. The film wrestles with Henry’s sense of morality, and in the scenes during which he’s performing, he creates a dialogue with the audience. The audience sings back at him a series of repeating questions—why did you become a comedian, Henry? The execution is still odd, but it’s one of the only moments that actually captures the internal struggles of one of our main characters.
There’s no joy here.
The final two songs also manage to explore and attempt to say something about the events of the film and how Henry feels about them. The last one, between daughter and father, is the only time I actually cared about Annette, who spends the whole film always off-center from the story. Perhaps it’s because she’s a marionette doll, but 0/10 on personality.
Driver and Cotillard do what they can, but it’s difficult to tell if they’re enjoying themselves here, either. Everyone looks miserable; there’s no joy here. For a film that dabbles in fantasy, the magic is gone before we even begin.
Annette is now playing in select theaters. It will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video starting August 20. You can watch the official trailer here.