Annette: An Acquired Taste
In some ways, 2021 is proving to be a great year for movie musicals. From the release of Lin Manuel Miranda's In the Heights and Tick Tick Boom, Stephen Chbosky's Dear Evan Hanson, Steven Spielberg's coming adaptation of West Side Story, Bo Burnham's Inside, the film musical genre is having a revival that would be comparable to the movie musical renaissance of the early 2000s with the release of Moulin Rouge. In some ways, I can only joke that it is Hollywood's attempt at an apology after the disastrously bad Cats release in 2019. Which brings us to Annette.
Released in early August of 2021 from Amazon Studios, Leo Carax's Annette is a dramatic musical that was the opening film at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. While the movie had a budget of 15.5 million, it had a box office of only 2.5 million at the time this article is being written.
Plot and Writing
The plot would follow comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and soprano singer Ann Desfranoux (Marion Cotillard), who have marry and have a daughter, the titular Annette, and the trials and tribulations that follow. The story has various twists and turns that will keep an audience engaged, but that being said, it can be difficult to follow and there are points that will make the audience confused. One of these things is the depiction of the titular character, Annette, who is a literal puppet. It is understandable why Leo Carax made this decision, trying to reflect how Henry's daughter is his puppet during her stage performances, but it comes off as disturbing and almost too on the nose. Exposition is also handled in a way that is also jarring, with the film using cutaways of a parody of TMZ to disclose information about Henry, Ann and Annette. There are also times during the musical, such as after Annette's death that the accompanist (Simon Helberg) breaks the fourth wall and it comes off as more strange than natural. The writing of the film helps deliver an intriguing tale of interpersonal drama, but it is still has flaws and moments of tedium that would make the audience check their phones for the time.
The characters in this film are for the most part captivating, Marion Cotillard is a delight to watch on screen and Adam Driver does have presence in the film. Though, we are not really given much into the characters' personal history. With Henry's character, he comes off as a discount combination of Steven Wright and Andy Kaufman, but it is hard to see how this person became famous as a comedian. It also makes the audience question what does Ann see in him to begin with. Simon Helberg's character of 'The Accompanist' also feels underdeveloped, only fully becoming a main character roughly an hour and a half into the film.
The film's strong opening number which used an elongated tracking shot gives the audience an idea of the kind of cinematography that is to be expected in this film. It is ambitious, using a myriad of different cuts, dissolves, framing styles that make the film a visual treat. One of the better scenes highlighting this would be the accusation scene where the six accusers share their stories about Henry, where we first see them framed in the shot a 'la 'Brady Bunch' and while they share their stories, their faces blend into each other, reflecting the shared experience of the women.
The Music and Score
The music and score for the film are best comparable to a rock opera with an unconventional soundtrack that ranges from operatic ballads to spoken word songs. One of the soundtrack's strengths would be Marion Cotillard's voice which shines in the film. While Adam Driver's singing voice is not bad per say, his tone comes off as flat and monotone, which doesn't always match up with Cotillard's. One of the problems with the film's soundtrack though is that the songs are not the most memorable. There really isn't any song in the entire film that you will be humming or have stuck in your head.
Annette is a musical that is not afraid to be unconventional and different from the standard fare of movie musicals, but it is not something that would have lasting appeal. Giving credit to the film, the acting and cinematography are great, but the story and musical score bring the film down. Personally, I would recommend watching the film at least one, but do not expect to make it one of your favorite musicals.
Annette is available on Amazon Prime Video.