Probably the second weirdest film of 2021 — TITANE, thanks to its sweet sweet car lovin’, takes the cake — ANNETTE barges into cinemas (or on your TV if you catch it on Amazon Prime) and gleefully showers the audience in its weirdness. A brainchild stemming from the imaginations of the Mael Brothers (better known as the acclaimed music group, Sparks, who also received their own documentary in 2021 courtesy of Edgar Wright) and French filmmaker Leos Carax, ANNETTE follows the turbulent ups and downs — and boy are they some downs — of the relationship between Henry (Adam Driver), an ultra edgy comedian who treats standup like a boxing match, and superstar opera singer, Ann(Marion Cottillard), who’s kind of just an opera singer, no weird strings attached.
At nearly two-and-a-half hours, it takes a bit before the titular love child of these two star crossed lovers shows up onscreen (in the form of a slightly unsettling, if still cute, CGI/puppet doll) but even before the strange image of Annette becomes the focus of the story, the film has quickly established its off kilter world. Starting with a slam bang opening song and long take that has the film’s actors, writers, composers, and director roaming and singing through the streets of Los Angeles before they head off to actually create the film they star in, Carax and the Mael Bros are clearly having a fun time playing around in the worlds of musicals. No doubt, the multitude of songs (all written by the Mael brothers) mostly hit their marks through thanks to the mix of the film’s game performers belting out darkly humorous lyrics. From police investigations to acts of cunnilingus to a character literally explaining to the audience their feelings on certain events of the film (surprisingly one of the film’s highlights, both sonically and technically), ANNETTE finds a musical number for any moment, and like its creators, hardly cares if you can’t see the comedy in its rambunctious approach to the genre.
Indeed, who better to lead all the craziness than Leos Carax himself, the filmmaker who somehow manages to create a bizarre world of celebrities and showmanship from the Maels’ script and somehow have all its weirdness feel natural. While the director has his performers, Mr. Driver and Ms. Cotillard, approach their characters with the melodramatic zeal of a well renowned theater production, it only enhances the surrounding “off-ness” of the world they inhabit. With sets that range from on location shoots to actual handcrafted stages that reflect the film’s ode to theatrical works, ANNETTE maintains a dreamy (if subtly bordering on a nightmare) look and feel. For the majority of its runtime, Carax and the Mael brothers benefit from the strangeness surrounding what is otherwise a tried and true tale involving the trappings of the celebrity lifestyle as we see Driver’s slowly fading comedian gradually latch his own quest for fame onto the talents of he and Cotillard’s doll child. Eventually, even in the presence of Driver unloading emotional baggage onto his doll child, the film begins to shift towards a more dramatic piece that is less focused on weirding you out and more in making you feel something about all the strangeness.
I can’t say for sure that this emotional reach works by the time the film reaches its tragic note but nevertheless the filmmakers certainly seem to want you to feel something when the credits roll and to her/its credit, little baby Annette does make for a sympathetic figure caught between death and fame chasers, which considering that its a doll, is a pretty big achievement. Even if the tears or even the barest feelings of any kind, outside of confoundment, don’t hit you, it’s hard to deny how much ANNETTE stands out from not only musicals but films as a whole. Ingenuity and originality, at least the forms of those ideas that make you stir in your seat at the sight of something you’ve never seen before, are hard to come by nowadays and ANNETTE, even with the presence of some missteps, still stands out as one of the more unique and better yet, entertaining, films of 2021.
This review can also be found at Hyperreal Film Club’s Review Page! Check them out for more awesome Austin related film events and works!