MOVIE REVIEW — Annette
Sparks’ Long Journey to the Big Screen — ★★★★☆
It’s been quite some time since my last piece of film writing, almost a year. October 27, 2020. A lot has happened since then, some good, some bad, some… somewhere in between that space. I haven’t stopped watching movies or stopped caring about writing, it just, and it may sound weird, or it may not, it all just felt so unimportant to me. Even when writing last year, none of what I wrote felt as if it mattered. And while that may sound overdramatic to some, it is what it is. Will this review mark my return to consistency? Honestly, I don’t even have an answer for that. I would love for the answer to be an emphatic yes, but at the same time, I just do not know. That all being said, I don’t think anyone clicked on this because they wanted to read some twenty two year-old’s existential crisis being written about, and so here we are, to talk about the new Leos Carax film, Annette.
If you want to check out another piece by me, I still will always recommend the writing I did about Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue from last year, so here is the link for that:
“Los Angeles, nowadays. Henry is a stand-up comedian with a fierce humor. Ann, 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.” — UGC Distribution
Attempting to sit here and relay the plot of this film in this review really would not do it any justice, so for now, I’ll leave it to the official synopsis of the film. Henry (Adam Driver), as it states, plays a stand-up comedian that feels like a mixture of Bo Burnham and Pete Davidson, with cynicism turned up to 11. Ann (Marion Cotillard), an opera singer, falls deeply in love with Henry in this weird, weird world, and from there… we go into one of the most utterly strange films I have seen in some time.
I… do not know where to begin on this one. Very often, I come into writing and have something about the film specifically that I like to use as a jumping off point for these reviews or any of the long-form writing that I’ve done, and yet, here I am, not having a clue. I guess, the best way to do start is to talk about a totally different film altogether.
Earlier this year Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) released a documentary, The Sparks Brothers, highlighting the career of musical group, Sparks. This was released shortly after In The Heights and F9, the first two films I saw back in theaters since the beginning of the Pandemic, and I chose this on a whim to be my third, being quite a big fan of Wright’s work, wanting to get more into documentary watching, and just wanting to see some more movies in theaters, and so I did. Having no clue who Sparks was, and loving the film, I came out wanting to listen to their music (I did), and more importantly I found out that Annette, which I had already seen the initial trailer for, was being written by them and featured new music by them. As corny as it will sound, The Sparks Brothers sparked something in me and shot this movie towards the top of my list for most anticipated releases of 2021, alongside Dune, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Westside Story, Last Night in Soho, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
So here we are, and sure enough, Annette opens with Sparks, two men who I would have just thought were random performers in the opening number had I not seen Wright’s documentary, as they exit a recordings session being lead by the film’s director, Leos Carax, before being joined by the film’s stars Driver and Cotillard, as well as Simon Helberg playing, The Conductor, a children’s choir, and back-up singers as they ask “So May We Start?” in the opening number. This immediately set itself apart from most other movie musicals as the opening number felt less performed by the characters within, and more so served as an overture that ended with the actors separating and heading to their first scenes. Definitely an interesting start, but the song itself serves as a killer intro and had me in for the 2+ hour ride I was about to embark on. This is then followed up by the film showcasing Henry McHenry’s absolutely bizarre “stand-up” performance, if you can even call it that? That isn’t an attack on this either, even if it might seem it, but it seems clear from even the initial viewing that Driver wasn’t supposed to be seen as actually funny in this introduction to his character whatsoever, but it still comes off in such a weird, otherworldly fashion, that having become a bit well-versed in Sparks’ work, it makes perfect sense for this being their filmic offspring.
That is probably the most important aspect of Annette, that it is something that is inherently Sparks, from both the writing of the film, and through the music within. For those who are unfamiliar with them, or for those who have and are not fans, I would argue that the enjoyment factor of the film is likely to drop drastically compared to those familiar with the group. Whether it be the repetition in the music that can drive some to insanity, or the zany, strange, less-accessible sound of their music, it just is not something for everyone, and the film knows that. It doesn’t beat around the bush and try to please everyone, it is as weird as anything Sparks have done before. And while I’m talking about Sparks, some are probably reading and questioning why I haven’t mentioned Carax in the weirdness of the film… that would be because I haven’t seen any of his prior work… so yea. I will however get around to watching Holy Motors sometime soon though, so do not fret! But with that being said, I can’t reference his work in regards to whatever Annette is until I see it for myself.
As for the music within the film, some of it I really loved, others, I will actively never listen to again. In short, some of it was just, too much for me, but I will list the tracks that I did love for reference…
- So May We Start
- You Used to Laugh
- All The Girls
- Stepping Back in Time
There are also a number of songs not on the official soundtrack (for some reason), and so while I do not have the names for these, I’ll just list them out as something…
- The song when Henry is being questioned by the police
- I’m A Good Father?
- Bon Voyage, Bon Voyage
While I gave the film four stars out of five, as shown in the subtitle for the article you are now reading, the film isn’t without its flaws, namely the pacing and length, as I found it a chore to get through at times. And yes, I can already picture people questioning how a film can be described as being a chore and still manage to get four stars. My answer for that… I have none. Yes, this is a difficult, challenging watch, but, and pardon my French, fuck is it rewarding by the end. Annette stands out as being one of the most unique films of 2021, and maybe even the past few years, with it shining as a clear example of the creative vision of Sparks’ being let free on the world. It doesn’t pull any of its punches, it deals with surprisingly heavy subject matter, it is weird, it is off-the-wall, the music is not very accessible at all, it has a sex musical number between its leads, there is a terrifying puppet child that initially shows up with no explanation as to why she is a puppet, and it has some incredibly striking visuals. All of that sound rambly as hell, but it is the truth, and the film itself will be stuck in my head for months.
Would I recommend this to anyone? No, absolutely not. But, if you find yourself as an active cinephile who likes to watch any and everything, are a fan of Sparks, find experimental/weird shit entertaining, and are ready for probably the most insane movie of the year, then yea, give it a shot.
I also had no idea where to include this within the review itself, but Simon Helberg gives a shockingly good performance in this, as someone who really only knows him as Howard from The Big Bang Theory, and the scene above above is probably the standout for me of the film. Do not watch it if you haven’t seen the film, as it does spoil a major plot point, but regardless, a great scene that deserves attention.
For whatever it’s worth, as I do not see myself writing reviews for the films I have seen up until now in 2021, I would be remiss if I didn’t find a way to mention some of my favorites of the year, so for now, here is my current TOP 15 FILMS OF 2021 (as of August 24, 2021):
13. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
12. Bad Trip
10. No Sudden Move (shoutout Brendan Fraser, KING SHIT)
8. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
7. The Sparks Brothers
6. In The Heights
5. The Suicide Squad
4. The Mitchells vs The Machines
3. Judas and the Black Messiah
2. The Green Knight
Annette is now streaming on Amazon Prime, and possibly playing in some theaters, although I could not find any showings near me, but seeing this on the big screen would be wicked.
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If you made it to the end here, and are in the mood for another read, here’s a review from last year of French Film, Jumbo: