The award for weirdest musical of the year goes to… Annette! Opening with a message imploring the audience to “keep silent and hold your breath till the end of the show”, Annette then busts out into a full-on throwback musical number entitled “May We Start.” That this sequence is the high point of the runtime speaks volumes about what will follow, which includes a scary Chucky-esque puppet child named Annette, a comparison of marrying young to “tying a concrete block on your testicles,” an undeserved death by drowning, a number about love that culminates with a literal climax, and Adam Driver exuding full-on manic stage dad vibes. That is just the tip of the iceberg in Leos Carax’s zany, and borderline nonsensical, collaboration with the Sparks Brothers.
Henry (Driver) is a stand-up comedian whose weird schtick is powered by self-deprecating humor. His routines are glorified performance art pieces, highly reminiscent of “Over the Moon” from Rent. On the flip side, his lover Ann (Marion Cotillard) is a critically-acclaimed opera singer with a stellar reputation. The two of them together form a golden pairing, endlessly pursued by the paparazzi. Everything changes when Ann gets pregnant. They subsequently have a creepy puppet-baby named Annette, whose destiny to become a viral singing sensation catapults Henry and Ann into dangerous waters.
Annette is half of a great movie. The music element is successful (though lyrically lacking), with ear-worm melodies and occasional embracement of the strangeness at its core. At least two of these songs worked their way into my mind; perhaps this is more due to their repetitive nature than the songwriting pedigree. “We Love Each Other So Much” is obsessive but obvious, feeling like it could have been penned by nearly anyone with musical knowledge. Other too-straightforward tunes like “Six Women Have Come Forward” and “Premiere Performance of Baby Annette” try hard to progress the plot, and seem to exist only for that reason.
Regardless, as a musical, the actual music is a vital piece of the puzzle that Annette executes with precision (and often laugh-out-loud preposterous fun). The acting compliments the tunes to the best of their abilities. Only when we get to bizarro moments, like Ann twirling in circles energetically with her creepy walking doll-baby, or Henry’s cringe-worthy overeager attempts to get his audience laughing, do the lines blur between campy, Oscar bait, and poor writing. For fans of Adam Driver, this role is like Adam from Girls on steroids. Driver and the other actors all did their own live singing! The characters are utterly impenetrable, and their personalities mildly develop strictly through song. Forget about Annette—without assigning an actress until late in the game, she is simply hollow and lifeless.
While I am not sold on Annette as a whole, I had fun watching it. Entertaining, bold, stupid, strange, shocking, and creepy—all of these words could describe this oddball musical. At the very least, I can safely say I have never seen anything like it before. It will be interesting indeed to see how audiences react to the movie’s more outlandish angles, and if the soundtrack has potential Oscar pedigree. The end credits exit-greet the audience in much the same way “May We Start” set the stage for the insanity that would follow. Leos Carax, winner of Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Annette is “out of this world” in a limited release in theaters on August 6th, followed by Amazon Prime on August 20th. It debuted at the opening night of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival on July 6th.