Review: Sparks don't fly in bizarre musical 'Annette'
Courtesy of Prime Video
After becoming borderline obsessed with Ron and Russell Mael, of the band Sparks, after Edgar Wright’s energetic documentary “The Sparks Brothers,” anticipation for their first “real” studio gig (we’re not counting the little seen “Rollercoaster”) “Annette” reached peak levels. Sad to say, though Sparks musical inclinations remain strange and upbeat in only their visceral style and dexterity, Leos Carax’s “Annette,” an odd musical fantasy to say the least, fails to fully engulf the viewer in its bizarre voyage where Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, both great in their performances, go through a cycle of awkwardly framed sequences that provoke more than stimulate. It’ll work for some who revere the abnormal, and certain tunes pop on their own, but mileage will vary based on how much you’re willing to accommodate.
Carax would be the first to tell you he isn’t the most mainstream filmmaker, and the majority of his filmography is inherently divisive, but the ambition and scope with which “Annette” is manufactured remains top-tier. The sound design, the trippy backgrounds and wide angle tracking shots create a flurry of memorable moments, but one has to ask themselves how the overall presentation made them feel. For myself, it didn’t conjure much emotion despite being impressed by the execution. Especially in the film’s opening number “So May We Start?” that signals “Annette” will be this semi-poppy, weirdly engrossing journey. How quickly we discover only one of those statements is true.
Still, “Annette,” should one choose to watch, is a fascinating, though peculiar layered metaphor on toxic masculinity, but the film will certainly have different impacts and interpretations on different moviegoers. The story centers around Ann (Cotillard), a renowned opera singer and her highly successful stand-up comic husband, Henry (Driver). Each brings a sense of identity to the roles, making us believe they could fall in love, but signaling that maybe they shouldn’t. Strolling through the park singing “We Love Each Other So Much” obviously indicates the opposite and Carax doesn’t shy away from this sense of uneasiness. Eventually, Ann gives birth to their child, Annette, who comes out of the womb as a puppet. Yes, a puppet.
As the nurturing Ann and unhinged Henry go through the motions of raising Annette, who has otherworldly abilities exploited for monetary gain in one of several eccentric scenes, and reality begins hinting darker elements are at play, “Annette” becomes a slow, tedious slog. It’s easy to get swept into the visual and musical elements, but the narrative glue fails to hold it together. Everyone sounds fine, including Simon Helberg’s wild supporting turn playing The Conductor, but the sparks never fly high enough.
ANNETTE opens in select theaters Friday, August 6th and debuts on Amazon Prime Video Friday, August 23rd