Annette ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

As someone who's watched Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pink Floyd – The Wall, and The Blues Brothers more times than I can count I am all here for the resurgence of the daring, full-throated R-rated adult musical. Annette is the return to that I didn't know I needed.

Actually the film Annette most reminds me of is the PG-rated but still fairly adult Ken Russell adaptation of The Who's Tommy from 1975. Both are rock operas about parents who discover that their child (whom they've traumatized) has a unique, maybe magical talent which they then exploit the shit out of. Tommy played a mean pinball; Annette is a baby who can sing spectacularly. Like Ken Russell's creation, this production by French director Leos Carax has moments of grand excess and lapses into questionable taste that will be very off-putting for some audience members but pretty damn enjoyable to others... and I gotta say that I fall into the latter group.

The parents of this tale are played by Marion Cotillard (as opera singer Ann Defrasnoux) and Adam Driver (as standup comedian Henry McHenry, who's like Dustin Hoffman when he played Lenny Bruce but with a big dollop of Bill Hicks thrown into the mix). The celebrity couple are, surprise surprise, a bit wrapped up in themselves and don't see the real impact they are having on their child who is, actually, a human being, and not just an accessory (or some perfect otherworldly extension of them) .... and, to drive their skewed perspective home, the film depicts Annette for much of the runtime as (spoiler alert) a CGI toy puppet (with visible screws and joints and everything) who's creepy as shit from the get-go. Yep.

The story of this family is told through the music of long-time pop rock act Sparks. The songs are catchy and frequently beautiful, the lyrics are so blunt they're occasionally laughable, but also sometimes brilliant. A recurring, wistfully-sung line by Driver's McHenry as he allows (or worse---encourages) terrible things to happen---"there's so little I can do." It's one of the most awful reassurances that we can give ourselves. Sometimes it's true but a lot of times it's not, and the film is right to point out the damage that particular denial can wreak.

The surface reading of Annette is that it's about the poisonous nature of fame and your hungry ego, which is probably a big part of why you get famous in the first place (with special emphasis on how this relates to famous men). Dig a little deeper and it's very much about empathy and regret, showing appreciation and respect for those you love before it's too late. Underneath all of its stylistic excess and all-around weirdness is an emotional message that I found very resonant. My reaction to this one kinda shocked me... and I wasn't really much of a Sparks fan going in.

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