The artistic style of French critic turned director Leos Carax has divided audiences for a while, the most notable example being his 2012 fantasy effort Holy Motors which was hailed a masterpiece by some but left others bewildered by the acclaim. His latest piece is romantic musical drama Annette, marking his English-language debut and with a screenplay penned by musicians Ron and Russell Mael, the idiosyncratic brothers behind the band Sparks. The bizarre plot follows comedian Henry (Adam Driver) and opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard) as they begin a very public courtship. However, when they marry and have their daughter, the eponymous Annette, their relationship soon hits the rocks.
On paper and from the promising premise, this has all the makings of an enjoyable experience. Sadly, on film, it is quite the opposite. An air of self-indulgence sets in early as the writers and director cameo in a wacky opening sequence to introduce the story, and the self-congratulatory tone continues throughout. For a project that relies on original music to tell its story, the songs are catchy but laughably repetitive, and every track seems to drag on for an uncomfortable amount of time. There are hints of sharp social satire in the sensationalised representation of the mainstream media and the way in which the script addresses the #MeToo movement, but the big narrative ideas on love and religion are so wrapped up in surrealist pretension that the outcome is always more grating than gratifying.
Adam Driver was incredible in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story a few years ago so he’d seem well suited to this tale of marital woe. His prolonged scenes of sardonic stand-up aim to portray him as an angry Bill Hicks or Stewart Lee type as he spouts his acerbic vitriol at an adoring crowd whilst sporting a green housecoat and slippers. This is interesting, and admittedly amusing, for a few minutes, but his brand of controversial comedy soon loses its shock value. His pairing with Cotillard, whose well-known vocal talents are put to good use, never feels authentic and therefore lacks emotional attachment. It’s a frustrating waste of what could have been a terrific on-screen partnership.
Annette feels like a feature-length SNL skit where only the performers themselves are in on the joke. It’s an abysmally boring, ridiculous, slog of a film and if Leos Carax’s work is indeed the marmite of cinema, I really wish I hadn’t opened the jar.