Daniel T’s review published on Letterboxd:
This movie did a 180 and completely inverted my expectations.
Annette was written and composed by Russell and Ron Mael, also known as the Sparks Brothers, whose music I did not like when I was first introduced to them earlier this year when I saw the documentary of the same name by Edgar Wright. Lo and behold, I really enjoyed this movie, and by extension the musical numbers throughout.
While it definitely does fall into a lot of the conventions you'd expect from a musical, I think the unique blend of surreal comedy and brutal truth the Sparks brothers infused within really sold me on the entire production. What starts out as a whimsical, idyllic display of Hollywood romance, morphs into an intriguing, if a little simplistic, depiction of child exploitation, destructive habits, and the toxic cynicism of the modern day. Colour me surprised, there was even a momentary nod to cancel culture and the #metoo movement that could've been fleshed out a little more but I respect that it went there.
Adam Driver's character, to me, is a callout to the harsh world of the celebrity, more specifically the celebrity standup comic. He's abrasive, impulsive, he's full of nothing but complaints, and people love it because it's an act he must be playing up. But when they ask him 'Why did you become a comedian?', the answers he give are all but false. Money, fame, adoration, all things he dismisses on stage only to immediately chase for the rest of the film. I could be interpreting it incorrectly, but to me it also called to mind how people will often believe what they're told without question when the person telling them is charismatic or funny, as we're seeing more and more of that today with internet and television personalities. To that end, it was quite contemporary and topical, especially for a film written by a duo that have, by reputation, more integrity to write what they want rather than what sells. I could easily spoil the hell out of this movie connecting the dots to every hypocrisy that follows from there, but it's fairly self explanatory and it's sprinkled throughout the whole film.
Yeah it's goofy and it got some chuckles, but the depiction of Annette, the child of the film's leading couple, as a wooden doll was an effective allegory to her relationship with her parents. She's a utility, something to be used. Her talent initially seems like more of a blessing than a curse, but ultimately it's a test of her father's integrity. It's very much adjacent to the Sparks' approach to thinly veiled comedic metaphor with an underlying message and while it doesn't quite land for me through the lyricism of their discography, in a visual medium it really clicked with me and I better appreciate their morbid humour for it.
It's not nearly my favourite musical, and it's definitely got some wear and tear here and there. I thought Simon Helberg was underused, the turning point of the film came a bit too late and through somewhat clumsy delivery, and I found that the last half hour of the film contained too much plot that should've been established earlier on. This would've benefitted a lot from having an act structure. But this one had me thinking more than I anticipated, and honestly that's one of my favourite things to do.