Written by Ron and Russel Mael of Sparks, I was intensely curious about this highly unusual film. Not only is the film original in it’s presentation but the premise is interesting as well. With the addition of Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, I was hopeful for a creative film. And that is exactly what we get, a very creative, unusual film that some might call bizarre but with an intentional surreal, dreamlike quality driven by outstanding performances. While there are parts that might lose some, the ending is emotional and the music is highly engaging.
Directed by Leos Carax and screenplay by Ron and Russel Mael along with original music and songs from Sparks, this film is a highly unusual undertaking. The film follows a provocative stand up comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) who marries Ann (Marion Cotillard), a world famous soprano. Their tempestuous relationship takes a turn when they have a daughter, Annette, a child with a unique gift. Simon Helberg also stars as the Conductor, a friend of the pair.
What makes the film so unique is there is very little spoken dialogue. Most of the film is a musical rock opera, the story and drama driven by the songs and visuals. As the viewer, you must rely on the body language and clues in the songs to understand the dynamics between Henry and Ann. The music adds a dreamy, hypnotic layer to the movie, while still adding touches of humor and irony within the lyrics and the conversations of the characters. The sensibility is very reminiscent of the music of Sparks, layers of meaning hidden in every conversation and every beat of music.
Much of the story is deliberately referencing aspects of show business, the exploitation of the young, especially in the scenes with Annette performing and in the fact that the character is portrayed by a puppet for most of the film. There are deliberate references to the hidden truths in comedy as well as how warped relationships in Hollywood become, especially if power dynamics are skewed. Especially the darker scenes bring attention to the darkest of elements in Hollywood, drinking and abuse and while it raises questions, it allows the viewer to decide for themselves the meaning. It is the very essence of surrealism. The humor and insight are also very true to Ron and Russell Mael and their love of French films.
Obviously with most of the film set to music, the songs are critical to the story but they are also compelling and enjoyable in their own right. Some of the pieces are incredibly catchy and very repetitive and while that repetitive quality might get boring, in the hands of Ron and Russell Mael, that repetition is integral to the story itself, building up drama and tension until the moment the music actually stops. The silence of music ends up being as important as the music itself. Without repeating songs and melodies, the silence would not work.
While Annette is played by a doll, that does not detract from the performances. The actors do an incredible job, every emotion as real as if they were acting with a real child. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard are both emotional and brilliant, each layering their performances with meaning and the chemistry between them is dynamic. Simon Helberg is poignant in his performance as the Conductor, an unknown rival to Henry, in love with Ann despite her choosing Henry. And the final emotional scene between Adam Driver and Devyn McDowell, who plays the live version of Annette, is so impactful and poignant.
While I love the music and the performances, I did struggle with the layers of meaning. I truly felt there were references I missed and elements of the film I didn’t grasp. It is not a film everyone will grasp or even enjoy. It also suffers due to the length of the film causing me at times to struggle with paying attention. There are unusual choices that don’t make sense the first time you watch the movie either. But you can tell most of the choices the film makes are intentional and while it may not be easy to understand, it is emotional, compelling, and creative.
If you like French films, films that are surreal in nature or you are interested in what Sparks has created, this film might be for you. The uniqueness of it, the musically driven story, the use of a doll for one of the characters, and the insight into Hollywood drama as well as child exploitation that make up for the length of the film. I also felt the ending was emotional and powerful. The performances are brilliant and dynamic, impactful and creative. The film is a work of art that is worth watching, just for the creative music and compelling performances.
Rating: 4 out of 5 hidden meanings
Los Angeles, today. Henry (Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian with a fierce sense of humor who falls in love with Ann (Marion Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer. Under the spotlight, they form a passionate and glamorous couple. With the birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious little girl with an exceptional destiny, their lives are turned upside down. A film by visionary director Leos Carax (Holy Motors), with story and music by Ron and Russell Mael, the duo known as Sparks, this original musical is a journey of love, passion and fame. ANNETTE opens in theaters on Friday, August 6, and then streams on Amazon Prime Friday, August 20, 2021.
ONE-LINER: A stand-up comedian and his opera singer wife have a 2 year old daughter with a surprising gift.