Annette ★★★★

The level of anticipation for Annette was surprisingly high for someone who ended up feeling rather mixed on Leos Carax's previous effort Holy Motors. However, Adam Driver is like the complete opposite of Trevante Rhodes or Rebecca Ferguson in that his agent actually seems to like him and get him work in films worthy of his talents. After popping up with every accomplished director from Steven Spielberg to Jeff Nichols, Driver's agent directing him towards the elusive Carax certainly raised a few eyebrows, including my own.

Driver is, of course, an astonishing force of charisma and sculpted abs who should certainly have an Oscar by now (and most certainly would have one if Joaquin Phoenix hadn't been Joaquin Phoenix-ing as a comic book character that spoke to incels and frat boys alike). Until he carries that gold, however, his aptitude for choosing left-field projects benefits his skillset, being able to play a charming everyman just as convincingly as an unhinged capital-A "Artiste." In Annette, Driver is clearly striving for the latter, and if he hadn't been as committed as he always is, this ship would've been headed for a Titanic-style disaster.

Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg are also wonderful in their respective roles, but in terms of impact, this is clearly a two-person show, and one of those people is a wooden puppet. This of course leads to the accessibility of Annette which, on the spectrum between The Shawshank Redemption and Jeanne Dielman, lies somewhere near... well, Carax's preceding film. So that begs the question: why did I like this so much more? The messaging about toxic masculinity was about as subtle and difficult to pinpoint as the idea of "shifting roles in life" from Holy Motors, but I suppose it's all in the delivery and the premise.

Carax and music duo Sparks begin their offbeat choices in choosing to focus on a stand-up comedian and an opera singer as their entertainer couple. (As much as we all love La La Land, it's not like we haven't seen Hollywood-set stories about actors and musicians before...) Clearly, this trio has an incredible reverence for the opera (at least more than whatever the hell those "comedy" performances were), because the essence of opera is seeped into the very fabric of Annette's presentation. I'm not familiar with Sparks's music (I knew them as those two Dennis Quaid-looking guys popping up all over Edgar Wright's Instagram a year or two ago, before we all learned what that was all about), but their unorthodox style of songwriting—at once sharp and enigmatic—marries so well with the sensibilities of the director.

Delivering most of the dialogue in song may prove occasionally tiresome and momentarily unnecessary, but combined with Carax's sharp eye for bombastic visuals and maximized spacing, the film takes on perhaps the most accurate sensation of flamboyant opera found on celluloid. (Speaking of which, it's absolutely worth seeking out in a theatre if you can, if only for the incredible heft carried by each musical note.) It may not blast open the floodgates for you in terms of experimental/poetic cinema, but if those gates were already left ajar, Annette can certainly inch you closer to the other side.

2021 Ranked.

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