Sometimes an indie art-house film comes around that entrances the viewer with its risk-taking and unorthodox decisions, and despite many scenes of craziness, it still manages to envelop audiences in the fascinating story. ANNETTE is not one of those films. This Adam Driver-led musical saga is by far one of the oddest experiences in recent memory, to the point where the average viewer will want to stop watching by the time the first act concludes. While the movie clearly has a vision and a poignant message it is trying to get across, it stops itself from doing so by indulging in unintentionally hilarious scenes of absurdity that end up detracting from the overall story.
While Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in a musical sounds like a fantastic idea in concept, ANNETTE made me wish it was any other musical but this. The songwriting style is bland and boring, often resorting to lyrics that state what is happening on-screen in a painfully obvious manner. One song in the first act repeats “We love each other so much” over and over again without providing any creative or interesting content to make us truly feel this emotion. Almost every song is written in this manner, with the best material in the film feeling like a knock-off of Stephen Sondheim’s songwriting style.
The performances and direction are admittedly good, with Driver delivering a great performance as we’ve come to expect from him, and Simon Helberg making me wish he had far more screen time. Helberg has a scene where he is directing an orchestra while giving a monologue, and it is the finest bit of acting and directing in the film. The themes and motifs introduced by director Leos Carax are also meaningful and intriguing, which makes it all the more disappointing that the film’s weirdness blocks the message from hitting home. But the largest compliment I can give ANNETTE is that I have never seen anything even similar to it, which is not a statement one can say all that often these days.
ANNETTE is a film that refuses to get out of its own way. The story has all the ingredients to create a powerful saga, but instead it creates a weird and drawn-out musical where Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard sing to each other while having sex and even giving birth to a puppet. Scenes like these made me laugh in the moment, which detracts from any message that could be sent no matter how interesting the concept. Many people may appreciate the film for how audacious and different it is from Hollywood’s typical formula, but most general audiences will be left either laughing in disbelief or turning it off to watch something else at the 20 minute mark.