‘Annette’: An Unusual Mix of Drama, Comedy and Rock Opera

'Annette' is uh...something.

by Ingridje

I really don’t like musicals, and that’s the understatement of the year. I simply hate all the singing and dancing; The Sound of Music, for example, exaggerates with its sentimental content. There’s no dancing (apart from one scene; at least, it’s not tap dancing) or any sentimentality in Annette though — this is some serious stuff about doomed love. The reason why I wanted to review Annette, despite its musical origins, is Adam Driver. I was really curious about his singing abilities and his interactions with the great Marion Cotillard. I also felt that this movie was going to be a very special one, and believe me when I tell you that this is a unique movie; you will not see anything like this for a long time.

Now that I have seen (and enjoyed) Annette it certainly has more in common with an opera than with a musical; the characters constantly sing about what they are doing and feeling, which is more typical of an opera (the hauntingly beautiful “We Love Each Other So Much” is now stuck in my head). And Cotillard’s character is even an opera singer. In Leos Carax’s universe, an opera singer has the same reputation as a rock star in everyday life. Now that’s a universe I really like.

Adam Driver is Henry McHenry, a controversial stand-up comedian who likes to mock himself (his show is called Ape of God) and the public. He has fallen in love with opera singer Ann (Cotillard). After a whirlwind courtship, the two become engaged and eventually married. They soon become the parents of Annette, a very gifted girl. It’s her birth that will change the fate of the main characters. Shortly after, Henry and Ann decide to take a boat trip, in order to mend their marriage. Things have become sour between the two because Ann is a lot more successful in her career than Henry is in his. And it doesn’t help that he has a meltdown on the stage.

During a ferocious storm, Henry persuades Ann to go dancing on the deck, a decision that will have important consequences.

Annette first saw light as a musical, written by Sparks, the pop and rock band formed by brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Leos Carax turned their lyrics and their music into a movie. But at the heart of the movie is a formidable cast. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard are magnificent as Henry and Ann. It’s their on-screen chemistry that gives life to Annette. I was overjoyed when I saw that Simon Helberg was also part of the cast. He plays Ann’s accompanist. He played a similar role in Florence Foster Jenkins, opposite Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep. Helberg doesn’t have a lot of time on the screen, but his character is an important one.

Annette was the opening movie of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and although the critics liked it, this is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. Let me give you some examples:

  • There is a scene in which Henry and Ann make love and sing at the same time.
  • Attention ladies, you will get to see Adam Driver naked. Not the front, however. And when he is not naked, he wears a green bathrobe during his performances.
  • Baby Annette is portrayed by a wooden puppet 
  • When Annette sings, her voice sounds like that of her mother, and she floats in the air!

In other words, this is not your usual drama. Leos Carax is the perfect director for Annette. Carax is known for his poetic, visually striking style. And he likes to explore the concept of love from different angles (like in The Lovers on the Bridge); passionate love, how love changes when a child is born. The birth of Annette changes the dynamics between Ann and Henry. In an ideal world, both Driver and Cotillard should receive Oscar nominations, but frankly, I have no idea what the Academy will think about this movie.

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Kali Tuttle September 5, 2021 - 1:31 pm

I had a nightmare like this one time.

Nick Kush September 4, 2021 - 12:07 pm

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