Annette ★½


Expectations were high for Leo Carax and Sparks' Annette, but what I got was a crushing, thundering disappointment, a bloated, turgid rock opera with surface-level weirdness a-plenty but no heart, depth or grit. The film’s surrealness isn’t the issue: in fact, the moments of oddness are arguably Annette’s best feature, from the endearingly meta opening number "So May We Start?" (which happens to be by far the catchiest in the film), to the song set to the rhythm of cunnilingus to the fact that baby Annette is represented in creepy marionette form for the majority of the running time. The problem is that, despite this, the film is just boring. Really, really, really boring. The weirdness, the fourth-wall breaks, the knowing winks to the audience as to the artifice of it all is in furtherance of a patronisingly simple story that is, essentially, A Star is Born meets Macbeth refracted through a prism of toxic masculinity, self-loathing and child exploitation. And, no, that is not even half as interesting as it sounds, especially when stretched out to a completely unnecessary 2 hours 20 minute run-time, most of which is spent focusing on terminally uninteresting whiny white guy pain (the film is very unclear as to whether we are supposed to hate the protagonist or empathise with him). Performance-wise, Adam Driver possesses undeniable screen presence and movie-star charisma (even if his comedy performance sections come across as little more than a Bo Burnham tribute act); on the other hand, a wooden Marion Cotillard struggles with an underwritten character who is, ultimately, little more than a bundle of wish fulfilment cliches.

But possibly the most disappointing thing about Annette are the songs themselves, the flatness and repetitiveness of which are really something: a worst laughable, at best simply forgettable. The British film critic Mark Kermode once (in)famously said about The Greatest Showman (wrongly) that “there isn’t a memorable tune in the bunch”- that criticism can absolutely be applied here. I watched the film this morning, and, aside from the opening number, I genuinely am having trouble remembering any of the songs. What is so bizarre is that these songs were written by Sparks (recently the subjects of a 2.5 hour documentary circle-jerk by Edgar Wright), so they should be clever and thought-provoking, or at the very least catchy… but they just aren’t. Unless, of course, you class characters repeating a single thought out loud (there is one song which is literally just the line "we love each other... So much" repeated about a billion times) set to almost identical-sounding backing music interesting. As I watched I started to wonder: are Sparks attempting some sort of anti-musical here? An attempt to subvert expectations of what a musical should sound like by doing the opposite, purposefully making each song as flat and uninteresting as possible? Will future film scholars be re-assessing this film in fifty years’ time as a misunderstood masterpiece? Perhaps. But, for the here and now, let it be said: Annette is by some distance the most bored and most unengaged I have felt watching a film in some considerable time. By the time it finally stuttered to its anti-climactic ending I felt nothing but relief. What a let-down.

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