There isn’t much of an audience for Annette, and rightfully so.
Amazon’s latest major awards season endeavor comes from the minds of Russell and Ron Mael, also known as the obscure alt-pop-rock band The Sparks, who penned both the rambling screenplay and chaotically strange soundtrack of French auteur Leos Carax’s meandering rock operetta and English language debut.
It’s a film where Adam Driver rants on stage at an audience in a bathrobe and calls it stand-up comedy, where a persistently melancholic Marion Cotillard listlessly looks off into the distance and where a large section of the film centers around a singing marionette puppet.
Avant-garde to the extreme, Annette is almost violently inaccessible, flaunting around in its own self-defined delusions of grandeur and opulence.
Centered largely around the unlikely romance between a brash stand-up comic and a classically trained opera star, Annette posits itself as a treatise on celebrity and fame while also commenting on toxic masculinity and existentialism.
Driver’s Henry McHenry is painstakingly abhorrent, with the clearest of intention, and Driver relishes every opportunity to twist the knife into viewers’ psyche like he’s dragging fingernails down a chalkboard. It’s a performance that asks the question: “What if Andy Kaufman was manically depressed” and the idiosyncratic monotone that Driver largely adopts for Henry’s cadence becomes increasingly abrasive as events unfold.
Often character actors like Driver attempt to mask for the audience how they are creating the character so that it appears after the performer has faded away completely so viewers suspend disbelief and buy into the larger narrative.
Keeping in Carax’s larger goal of peeling back the layers of filmmaking within Annette – there’s some intentionally shoddy green screen work to accentuate the cinematic fiction of the world – Driver paints Henry with loud, bombastic brushstrokes that scream out his commitment as an actor to the role. It’s brilliantly flamboyant artistry on his part, especially in becoming magnetically loathsome and captivating all at the same time.
For large sections of her screen time, Cotillard plays Ann as submissive, nearly to the point of being opaque and it’s only after she becomes a mother that audiences begin to see the vibrancy of Ann as a character and Cotillard’s performance, which haunts over every second the titular Annette is on screen.
Simon Helberg is woefully underutilized in limited time as a composer with ties to Ann and the fact that he’s the third largest role in the film among living performers should prove how much of a one-man show Annette becomes for Driver’s manic disposition.
The screenplay is inexplicably short and confounding for a 150-minute feature but is thankfully overshadowed in large segments by Caroline Champetier’s exceptional cinematography gives the bold choices Carax makes in the film a sense of purpose and makes the film something attentive viewers an arresting display they will rarely want to turn away from even when things may get uncomfortable.
This award season, Annette will serve primarily as an asterisk attached to Driver’s inevitable nomination for either The Last Duel or House of Gucci, both high-profile and buzzworthy Oscar bait films from director Ridley Scott voters may opt to reward Driver for the entire year’s filmography and include his bombastic, “going for it” turn in Annette in their rationale when deciding on nominees and winners.
It’s hard to imagine the film receiving much else from outside the random critic’s group best-of list, though it’s certainly possible that one of the catchier tunes from the soundtrack like “So May We Start?” filter its way into a shortlist for best original song.
Annette is one of those films that viewers will instantly recognize as a love-it-or-hate-it bellwether for a cinephile’s taste and one that will have its ardent supporters elevating to cult status in short order while most simply shrug their shoulders or dismiss outright.
The film’s arrival on Amazon Prime probably gives Annette a broader base audience than it deserves and those who haven’t turned it off by the number “We Love Each Other So Much” shouldn’t be surprised by the mystifying twists and turns it takes along the way.
It’s difficult to recommend the film to anyone at all, which makes Annette an even more intriguing and off-putting avantgarde display of original cinema easily accessible for audiences willing to give the inexplicably brash film a try.