If it’s pure arthouse in the main vein you’ve been eager for since the pandemic hit, maybe Annette will quench your cravings. An operatic musical, with music from the Sparks Brothers (who also co-wrote the story/screenplay), this film is wonderfully lavish in its lofty arty ambitions. Although story and character elements don’t always fit together well, Annette is still to be praised for feeling so unrestrained and so pure, as we are weaved into its tale of caustic stand-up comedian Henry (Adam Driver), his opera singer wife Ann (Marion Cotillard), and their daughter, Annette, who has a special talent of her own for the world.
We’re introduced to Henry and Ann, both hard at work on stage with their respective performances. But it’s Henry’s that’s the most dazzling and unique. His stand-up shows are a blast to watch, given that his comedy routine is mixed with the musical – even the audience gets in on the jokes and songs, but it works wonderfully to show how Henry perceives himself, as well as how he perceives the audience to perceive him. There’s a lot going on in his head, and the film realises that in this musical number very effectively.
But when the couple are together, being very romantic and all, it’s hard to gauge how sincere the film is, or if it’s just taking the piss. You feel this when Henry and Ann sing to each other “We Love Each Other So Much” over and over again, but this song isn’t really backed up by actual displays of love that occur in the story or their character development. It makes you wonder, particularly as their relationship doesn’t seem that disturbed by dramatic changes.
There’s not the smoothest transition from focus in on the Ann character to then introducing their daughter, though the sequence that brings on this transition is a cinematic wonder, unashamedly bringing the drama to a grand height. But after this story hurdle, the Annette portion of the film is much more engaging, perhaps mostly thanks to the puppetry that presents this young wunderkind, which is incredibly expressive and gives out emotions from the smallest of changes.
The film ends on a respectable note about the father-daughter bond, though it also feels a little naff and obvious. The film covers quite a lot of aspects of family and career life throughout its runtime, but seems to hone in on only one and leave the others ultimately neglected. Despite its tonal wonkiness, Annette is otherwise an astonishingly made exposé on the careers of this family, that at times can make you laugh with its cheekiness and sharp satire, and at other times truly take your breath away.