Annette (2021, Leos Carax)

Right up until the end, it seems like Annette will maintain some level of success solely due to the audacity of the project. It’s a musical set in Hollywood, where an edge lord white male comedian (Adam Driver) marries a beloved singer (Marion Cotillard). Only he’s got a shelf life because he’s always trying to offend, and she doesn’t really want to play Hollywood mom. The movie’s terrible about delineating the present action, but basically, they get married right away because he’s knocked her up.

Their child, titular Annette is mostly a puppet, so you don’t see Driver and Cotillard being shitty rich and famous people to a real toddler. The puppetry is fine but never great. Kind of like the film at its best; it’s sometimes fine, never great. Well, except the opening musical number, which has the entire cast walking down the street singing, and it’s actually good. People don’t just seem to be enjoying themselves, they seem to enjoy being part of an ensemble.

Annette’s got a lot of problems. It’s a long and tedious melodrama, Simon Helberg is terrible as the second act foil, the songs are entirely naturalistic, Driver’s middling, Cotillard’s underwhelming and deceptively presented, the script’s craven, but the worst problem is how little anyone interacts. It’s a musical where–outside people singing at each other every fifteen minutes–everyone’s doing solos. Cotillard’s got the voice for it, but the songs are wanting. Driver could probably get away with it if the writing were better, but it’s not, so he’s just a bore.

Not to mention he’s a bore of a comedian too. Annette can present Cotillard as a good singer because she’s, you know, singing well. Driver’s comedy bits? He abuses the audience, they cheer, he moons them, they cheer, he does a ten-minute set and bounces, they cheer. When he has his eventual fall, he can’t figure out why they didn’t like his shitty new material, and it’s a valid question; it’s no worse than his other material. In fact, even if it’s misogynistic, it’s at least ambitious. But writers Ron Mael and Russell Mael have no idea how to write funny stand-up or even potentially funny stand-up. Director Carax tries to stylize the sequences to cover for the conceit requiring such a leap, but there’s no way to cover for it.

Then when it turns out part of the plot involves Driver actually being an abusive white male edge lord comic? It just seems mercenary and exploitative. Given the second act is all about Driver and Cotillard discovering their kid has a fantastic ability—other than being an animate puppet—and Driver wants to exploit her too… I mean, join the club. There’s nothing not exploitative in Annette.

The finale tries hard for a big, revelatory moment, but Carax completely whiffs it. Sort of understandably, it’s a terrible scene, but it drags Annette down the rest of the way. It’d been teetering for over an hour, and it’s the final drop. Maybe if Helberg were even mildly okay, but part of the script involves no one acting with any sense while singing about why they should be acting with sense; Cotillard only does it once; Helberg does it for every single one of his scenes. So it goes from disappointing to annoying to appalling.

Though the film does make its ickiest swing with Helberg. At first, it seems so icky it couldn’t possibly be intentional, then everyone starts singing about the icky, and it’s hard not to sympathize with Driver. And Driver’s profoundly unsympathetic. Like, the movie’s unsympathetic because it’s so craven and cheap in the narrative, but Driver’s always an apparent bastard. But even a bastard can be sympathetic, apparently.

Mostly good photography from Caroline Champetier. Sometimes she and Carax run afoul of digital video constraints, but they’ve also got some good-looking sequences. Otherwise, it’s not technically notable. Carax’s direction is fine, but he’s got a wide berth.

Annette’s interesting but not for any good reasons.

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