Only two months after the release of the retrospective documentary—Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers—Ron & Russell Mael continue their comeback with another collaboration on the silver screen, this time with French filmmaker Leos Carax. Known through their work as the cult alt-rock band Sparks, the Mael brothers first attempted to compose music for a feature film way back in the early 1970s with another French director, Jacques Tati.
The concept would ultimately fall through before the brothers came close again in 2009, with their radio and stage musical ‘The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman.’ Now, the duo’s longtime passion project is finally a reality in limited theaters and on Amazon Prime with Carax’s artsy movie musical: Annette.
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Set in the showbusiness capital of the world, Los Angeles, Annette follows the ups and downs of a celebrity couple’s relationship. Henry (Adam Driver) is an alternative comedian with a local following, while his new girlfriend and muse is successful, big-time soprano singer Ann (Marion Cotillard). Love quickly blooms into marriage and a baby daughter named Annette, peculiarly portrayed by an animatronic marionette puppet, follows. But soon tragedy replaces bliss as Henry’s drinking and jealousy rise while Ann becomes a superstar on the stage.
Simon Helberg appears as Ann’s accompanist and former beau. Annette is pretty much exactly what I expect from a movie with a European arthouse director and a quirky, alternative music group working together. Those who are fans of either Carax or Sparks will probably like the new picture. Those who are fans of both will really like it. Those who have neither on their radar won’t give a single iota about Annette and her parents. Although marketed as a movie musical, Annette is actually closer to a rock opera along the lines of Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975) or Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). The vast majority of the dialogue is sung, with Helberg’s character getting most of the spoken words. As a fan of musicals and someone who can appreciate an artsy-fartsy movie when it’s executed well, I dug a lot of Annette. Once you accept the avant-garde direction and flamboyant, extravagant atmosphere, it’s a trip in a fascinating way.
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Driver shows his song-and-dance potential once again after its brief appearance in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (2019), and Cotillard proves she really can fit right into any genre and era. There comes a point in the middle of the movie where we get Driver as the sole focus of the story, and see him have to carry the load of Annette’s drama and music. Moments like this remind the audience how Driver is one of the best actors working in film today beyond his fame with Star Wars. And fortunately, Annette’s own doll-like appearance is only slightly creepy whenever she’s on screen.
After the slow and cautious return to summer movie season this year, it’s nice to see it end on a high musical note between Annette and Liesl Tommy’s Respect.
Are you a musical or arthouse movie fan? Does Annette look interesting to you? Tell us in the comments!
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