Josh Barton’s review published on Letterboxd:
So may we start?
There is no denying that musicals can open a door to complete and utter escapism for an audience, which is one of the most beautiful things about them. Bursting out into song mid-sentence or expertly choregraphed dance numbers are just some of the magical things that can happen in them, often to ease the character's troubles away. Annette is a musical from Leos Carax, written by Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks fame, so I expected things to get a little weird. I didn't expect things to get THAT weird though.
Los Angeles, nowadays. Henry (Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian with a fierce humor. Ann (Marion Cotillard), an internationally renowned opera singer. Together, under the spotlight, they form a happy and glamorous couple. The birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious girl with an exceptional destiny, will turn their lives upside down.
Premiering as the opening film to the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Annette found itself the recipient of a standing ovation that lasted over five minutes from its audience that day. That has to mean something surely, right? There has been long ovations before at Cannes, Pan's Labyrinth getting a twenty-two minute applause back in 2006, so maybe five minutes means nothing at all. Having now seen Annette, and following the narrative of what turns out to be quite a hard film to digest, I would have probably left the screening at Cannes rather abruptly at the end, or even before it had finished. God knows how I made it to end when sat at home on my sofa.
I get it, Sparks are a weird yet incredibly influential duo, Edgar Wright's documentary The Sparks Brothers showcasing this to me earlier this year. That being said, what they've conjured up here alongside Carax with Annette is nothing short of one of the most infuriatingly frustrating films I've ever seen. There's catchy musical numbers scattered throughout, albeit repetitive, but they don't stand the test of time because they were forgotten by the time the end credits started to roll. Majorly disappointing as Sparks have written plenty of songs that have stood the test of time throughout their illustrious career.
I've never said "What?!" out loud as many times throughout a film as I did with Annette, a film set to be one of the more polarising of the year for sure. When it comes down to it, this is a really easy film to understand it's just wrapped in so much absurdity that it becomes incredibly obnoxious a film to sit through. It gets dark and almost depressing at times yet I couldn't help but laugh at some of these moments just because of how they were delivered by Carax and Sparks, an unintentional comedy not the idea I'm sure they had when setting out to make the film.
I'm struggling to even find any solace in the performances either, Adam Driver and Marion Cottilard both major screen presences yet not able to inject enough into the film to make it a worthwhile viewing experience. On paper, Driver suits the work of Sparks to a tee however, I just couldn't bring myself to take any of it seriously. Is there something I'm missing because I feel like there is.
You know when you just don't click with a film? I had that with Annette about fifteen minutes in yet stuck with it to see if it got more interesting. Things only got weirder and I'm sure what others feel to be interesting will be classed by me as one of the worst films I've seen this year.