Bloated and pompous, Leos Carax’s Annette is a chore of a film with plenty of substance but no real ideas besides being “artful.” Stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard are fully committed, but both talents are completely wasted in this mess of a musical.
Driver stars as Henry McHenry, a famous stand-up comedian who announces his engagement to world-famous soprano singer Ann Desfranoux (Cotillard). Soon after their marriage, Ann gives birth to a daughter Annette, who is portrayed as a marionette. As Ann’s career continues to flourish, Henry’s comedy career declines following an on-stage meltdown. All the while, the Accompanist (Simon Helberg) pines for Ann, who worked with her previously and is now a famous conductor.
I don’t want to divulge too much about the film without spoiling it, but Annette becomes and important figure for Henry as well as the Accompanist. As Annette’s fame grows, Henry begins to spiral more and more out of control.
The film lasts 140 minutes and ever minute is painfully felt. Scenes drag on uncontrollably and points that are made in a scene continued to be hammered home until you are exhausted from it. The titular character doesn’t appear until 40 minutes into the film, and we had barely been introduced to the Accompanist at that point.
The entirety of the film is punctuated by music with either dominates the scene or is punctuated by it. The music itself is not particularly memorable outside of the opening number “So May We Start.” In contrast to Driver’s baritone speaking voice, his singing is a high tenor, which usually drones on incoherently. Cotillard barely speaks and is limited to her high-pitched soprano. Helberg is the opposite of Cotillard and barely sings, usually talking along to the music instead of with it.
Driver is not sleepwalking through any of this as he thrusts himself into the chaos that is asked of him. Henry is a degenerate, but his hate-ability is the most interesting thing about him. He is not particularly interesting and his “comedy” is never funny. He is more of a provocateur and he is also boring at that. Driver’s well-toned physique is the big winner of the film. Cotillard is completely wasted, embodying a character the film barely cares about and puts no effort into expanding. The only thing we learn about her is her talent. The film treats her as nothing more than an ideal or a sexual object.
Helberg has the most interesting role, including a standout scene where he espouses his love for Ann while taking breaks to enthusiastically conduct an orchestra. His character devolves into something useless and in the way for Henry, so he also barely registers.
Carax takes painful time in making everything look and feel a certain way and it never comes across as either fanciful or genuine. He keeps the audience in this middle ground of never believing reality but never caring if it’s all a dream. The songs from the Sparks drone on as much as the film, for what purpose, only Carax knows. The film is so full of metaphors and imagery, but it was all so exhausting and annoying that I didn’t care to investigate what any of the metaphors meant. Even if I knew, I doubt that would give this laborious film any further substance.
It is a crime to waste the talents of Driver and Cotillard on such a phony film like Annette. I don’t know what Carax was going for, but if he achieved it, I don’t want any part of his future endeavors.