dir: Leos Carax
I… well, this was never going to go well for me, though I did have optimism at first, fool that I am.
I liked some songs by Sparks from, um, many decades ago, at least the ones that were covered by other people. So knowing that the Mael Brothers wrote all the music and even appear in the film was…not exactly an enticement, but at least a point of interest. With the Edgar Wright doco that came out about them a couple of months ago, it implies this has been a big year for them. So congrats to them.
I know nothing about Leos Carax other than that he exists, makes movies, and has a cool name. I do remember that he brought out a flick called Holy Motors a bunch of years ago, which had Kylie Minogue in it, but the novelty never proved compelling enough for me to track down a copy and watch it.
It is unlikely that I will be delving into Carax’s back catalogue based on Annette. I can’t say whether it’s a shitty film or a shitty musical or not, because others are better placed to judge such things. What I can say is that I found Annette profoundly uninteresting, unengaging and unpersuasive, and I was not moved by it at all. I’m usually a sucker for these kinds of things, but not this time. So I can’t say “it’s a bad movie”, even though I’m really tempted to. I can say, though, that I really, really didn’t enjoy watching it.
I even find myself fascinated by Adam Driver in general, and he seems to be in almost everything that is made these days, and even that didn’t do much for me here. It kinda almost starts off promising with Driver decked out like a boxer about to start a match, except he’s a stand up getting ready to attack a crowd, the so called Ape of God. He, being Henry McHenry spends his time, so he tells us, trying to kill the audience.
He is in love with an opera singer (Marion Cotillard) who every night dies on stage for her audiences. No matter the opera, because seemingly she plays the lead of a different opera every other night, she dies, because every opera needs some woman to die in the end.
They tell us they are very much in love. We know this because they sing a song that says they are so much in love. In fact, that’s all the song says “we love each other so much” with no other lyrics, and they sing it over and over, even during sweaty, bony, very pale sex scenes. So I guess they must be in love or something.
The other key pointers to what is happening in their lives is some celeb chasing tv gossip program, which cares enough about this famous couple that it would signpost all the important things that happen in their lives: when they get married, when they have a kid, when they go on an ill-advised yacht trip into the middle of the ocean.
This couple, who we are told love each other so much, barely appear together, but they do have a baby together, Annette. Annette is a mannequin, or a puppet or a doll or something. Whatever she is, whatever she’s made from, she’s creepy. She’s not Annabelle or Bride of Chucky creepy, as in I don’t think deliberately going for horror, but she’s fucking creepy.
I perhaps maybe get some elements of what they were going for, but a lot of other stuff just flew right past me. If the story is making the point that stories killing women off is bad, as in, maybe there’s something inherently misogynistic about an artform, being opera, needing female characters to be offed all the time for our pleasure, I’m not sure that you make or contradict your point by having that same female character die in your film, which loosely packs together elements of musical theatre and opera, and, I dunno, other bullshit too.
Henry’s stand-up is also quite surreal, I mean anything in this flick is surreal, as in it seems poorly thought out but well visualised, but we see one “triumphant” stand up session, and a presumably bad one, but I couldn’t really see the difference between them. In the second one, which causes Henry’s career to spiral, he talks about accidentally but kinda on purpose killing his wife by tickling her to death because of her facial expression. He also talks about his disgust with himself for loving someone.
I mean, there are lousy reasons to kill a person, but…
Not much later Ann is being driven to a performance, and she falls asleep and dreams that a bunch of women come forward to say Henry McHenry is a violent piece of shit. I guess it’s a nod to #MeToo? But she wakes up, it was all a dream, and then she dies on the high seas.
Henry and Annette unfortunately survive, but a sea ghost of Ann tells Henry she will haunt him forever.
It’s nice to stay connected with people.
The baby keeps being the creepy goddamn puppet for 90 % of the film, looking like it’s made from some poor creature’s skins or leftover bits. And Henry, you’ll be surprised to know, keeps being an oddly boring piece of shit, but finds new ways to be awful as the film progresses.
The cops interrogate him after Ann’s disappearance at sea, to no avail, and to celebrate he buys Annette a moving musical lamp. When he plugs it in, Annette, the evil devil puppet baby, sings with the voice given to her by her allegedly talented mother.
Henry immediately thinks – I must exploit this child, because…money?
He enlists a character who seemed tangential, as in, he just played the piano as an accompanist to Ann for her performances (Simon Helberg), but little does he know that the chap really, really loved Ann, and might actually be Annette’s real dad.
At no point, unfortunately, does Annette ever scream at either of them “You’re not my real dad!”
Simon Helberg has played a pretentious, piano playing prick in at least three films that I’ve seen over the last couple of years, and I have to wonder why this is the case. He played the piano in Saving Mr Banks, which was a movie about Walt Disney trying to convince the author of Mary Poppins to let him violate her legacy by turning it into a musical movie. He played the piano a lot in Florence Foster Jenkins, about possibly the worst singer in recorded history. And he plays the piano here, too. He’s most famous for playing a terrible stereotypically Jewish character in a sitcom whose name I won’t mention, but his film work is almost exclusively tortured piano guys.
It's a thankless task. He claims to love and care about Annette, but he still lets Henry exploit her all over the world by making her sing when she’s barely old enough to stand.
But Henry murders him too, in what is a pretty disturbing sequence which, given the size and strength disparity between Driver and Helberg, I wonder if maybe Driver did it for real, just for something different, just to FEEL something, for once.
I mention lots of things that happen, but really, there’s not that much going on from my perspective. None of what happens seems like it could happen in the ‘real’ world, but I never really got swept up into an alternative, dream-like reality where even what was happening here was really happening. And I cared for almost none of it, and I didn’t care if piece of shit Henry McHenry got his comeuppance or didn’t.
Finally, when Annette reveals to the world that Henry has killed a bunch of people, and he’s jailed, and his birthmark takes over half his face, a girl appears to supplant the creepy Annette doll, which, for some reason, is still in the room. She (Devyn McDowell) tells her dear old dad she doesn’t care about him at all, didn’t think much of her mother for making her part of her revenge, and that, going forward, he shouldn’t really spend too much time thinking about her, because, hey.
So, yep. That was it. Listing things that happen in a flick isn’t really a review, as in, there’s no point to that other than giving people a synopsis. What I’m trying to convey, however, is that the things that happen here are not interesting, or don’t resonate in any way, in any of the ways I can think of that matter to people who generally enjoy watching movies of any description or genre. There are possibly people moved to tears by any of the things that are realised in this flick. Maybe they’re intellectually engaged by the references to woman characters being sacrificed in stories, or by the reoccurring image of Ann eating a red apple, like she’s a character in a Grimm fairy tale. Maybe someone is a sucker for the music of Sparks, or musical theatre-type acting, where people sing-talk absurd lines expressing what they’re thinking or feeling, and happily listen to it, and aren’t instead having their soul flattened by listening to such banalities.
I am not one of those people. It would have to be a long time before I think I could steel myself to watch this again, to give it a second chance, to see if any of the thoughts, actions, songs or moments hit differently, but every time I consider doing that, this memory comes up unbidden as to how profoundly fucking bored I was watching this, despite all the talented people involved.
Annette – I just can’t even summon some pithy insult right now, this dribble was unwatchable.
3 times musicals are meant to be musical and memorable, right? out of 10
“How did the show go?
- “I killed them. Destroyed them. Murdered them. How did your show go?”
“I saved them.” - Annette