Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard portray a celebrity couple in “Annette.” She’s a world-famous opera singer and he is a comedian billed as “The Ape of God.” Driver is also an executive producer of the film helmed by Leos Carax, who is known as an avant garde French filmmaker. Carax previously directed the Cannes favorite “Holy Motors,” a big Cannes favorite, which I found almost unwatchable.
“Annette” follows along in this tradition of very weird films from Leos Carax. It is based on the dialogue and music of the group known as Spark, brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Much of the dialogue is sung, which has been done before both on television in a police sit-com directed by Steven Bochco (“Cop Rock”) where all of the dialogue was sung, and in a film featuring Anna Kendrick directed by Richard Lagravenese, “The Last Five Years.” And let’s not forget about operas like Bizet’s “Carmen.”
The singing is not particularly good, but Adam Driver likes to sing, as proven by the completely unnecessary singing he did in “Marriage Story.” The plot has Marion Cotillard’s character of Ann Defrasnoux cast as a world famous opera singer whose career is going great guns. Plus, she and Henry (Driver) are crazy about each other, although she was dating her accompanist (Simon Helberg) before she met Henry.
Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) is a misogynistic comic who goes onstage clad only in black BVDs and a green bathrobe and rants, usually in a darkly humorous vein. At first, like Kanye, Henry McHenry’s schtick in his act (known as “The Ape of God”) is considered cool and chill by his audiences. His brand of toxic masculinity, blending intimate, often obnoxious confessions with a crude onstage persona (a la Andrew “Dice” Clay or Donald J. Trump), has the audience cheering. But things change.
Henry’s audience turns on him and his fortunes as a comedian suffer. The fall from favor that Henry experiences made me think of a stand-up routine I once suffered through with a late-in-the-game ailing George Carlin, where he went on a supposedly comic rant in a routine about suicide. Patrons were streaming for the exits. So, that is, roughly, what happens to Henry, who finally wears out his welcome like many insult comics.
“Annette” turns into the plot of “A Star Is Born” when Ann’s opera career continues to thrive while Henry’s fans reject his “Ape of God” appearances. This sets up problems in a marriage and the early crooning of their song (“We Love Each Other So Much”) now gives way to a fall from grace, with Henry drinking too much and a melodramatically staged storm leading to tragedy.
But Annette, the daughter that Ann gives birth to, is still there for Henry to care for. Henry begins to shirk that responsibility more and more, leaving paternal duties to Ann’s accompanist-turned-orchestra director, well played by Simon Helberg (“The Big Bang Theory”).
Somewhere in the second half of this 2 hour and 21 minute film Henry—who has discovered that Baby Annette has inherited her mother’s fantastic vocal instrument—decides to exploit his young daughter’s talent by having her tour non-stop singing for stadium-sized audiences. The part of Annette from birth until age five is played by an obvious wooden dummy throughout the first three-fourths of the film. That is very odd, but so is the film. Only in the final prison scenes of the movie do we get a real live girl, Devyn McDowell, who sings her part opposite Adam Driver as he languishes in jail.
The look-alike redhead is only five years old and she is terrific! I would have liked the film to be set up in such a way that we could have had more of Devyn. She is one of the best things in it. The five-year-old traveled to Belgium and Germany for filming and “Annette” not only won the Best Soundtrack and Best Director awards at Cannes, it was the opening night film. At 6 years old, Devyn also worked with the talented, award winning cast of Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne in the anticipated thriller, “The Good Nurse”, directed by Tobias Lindholm
Ultimately, we learn that the most important thing in life is to have someone to love (and vice versa). The singing in the prison sequence between Baby Annette and her father isn’t as distracting as elsewhere in the film. Devyn actually is very, very good for a five-year-old and the message of the film is pretty impressive. As the New York Times critic said, “The final reckoning is as devastating as anything I’ve seen in a recent film,” calling the movie depiction of megalomania “feverishly imaginative.” It earned the film a 5-minute standing ovation at Cannes.
I was burned by “Holy Motors,”one of Leos Carax’s early films (2012). This one is just as odd, but has a better message and better acting.
This film is overlong, has average singers singing the dialogue, and uses a theme we’ve seen done many times previously, but it was far more entertaining than I anticipated it would be.