For most musicals, the featured songs have to be catchy enough to sell you on the film, even after only hearing a tiny snippet of them from the marketing campaigns. In the process of making these legendary tunes though, the characters who sing them can be lost to time. Everyone knows the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” but how many know the character who sung it (Esther Smith from Meet Me in St. Louis)? The same could be said for Singin’ in The Rain, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, and the list goes on.
Sparks, the sibling duo behind the music and story of Annette, have been subversive their entire careers. Therefore, it only makes sense that their first cinematic endeavor is one that defies these rules of most American musicals. The songs in Annette, with the exception of opening tune “So May We Start?”, seem purposely forgettable. Audiences are then forced to shift their focus from the accompaniment to Henry (Adam Driver) and Ann (Marion Cotillard) and their toxic romance.
It’s a great decision by Sparks and director Leos Carax too because the characters feel richly developed. Henry is a bizarro Bo Burnham kind of comedian who desperately needs to be the center of attention, even though his schtick claims to hate it. The use of green in every scene Henry is in shows just how consumed he is by envy and his desire to be in the limelight.
Ann meanwhile is a famous opera singer and depicted as a model of perfection. She represents the respectable side of the arts while Henry the spokesperson for artistic dark arts. The couple comes from two opposite ends of the spectrum yet they seems to find solace in each other, at least for a time.
Or do they? Ann and Henry’s love song “We Love Each Other So Much” is simply them repeating those six words nearly ad nauseum. We never learn how or why they love each other. Despite their beautiful harmonies vocally and in bed, the melody feels more like the couple is trying to will their love into existence.
We all know what happens when you try to force something that isn’t meant to be: Everybody loses. That loss comes in the form of their child Annette. While she may have the voice of an angel, her spawn of Chucky appearance is the result of her parents’ artificial romance. Her wooden composition is not unlike the I love you’s Ann and Henry say to one another.
Annette is certainly not for everyone. There are plenty of moments throughout that make you laugh and wonder, “What were they thinking while they were shooting this film?” Though no matter how weird those decisions are, they are bold, creative, and full of passion. All things that are the antithesis of Henry & Ann’s relationship and Hollywood filmmaking in general.
The Silver Lining
“One of a Kind” from the animated feature Vivo now has a challenger for the best opening musical sequence this year. Annette‘s “So May We Start” is a catchy, meta long take that follows the entire cast and the crew as they join forces to start the movie. It’s the kind of opening that gives you the taste of what’s to come, while still being fun and cheeky, that feels in the same vein as The Great Muppet Caper‘s “Hey a Movie!”.
It also rings of a kind of celebration that Sparks was even able to make Annette with Carax in the first place. In Edgar Wright’s fantastic documentary The Sparks Brothers, we learn that the brothers have been attempting to dip their toes into the cinematic waters for decades now, only to lose funding or support at the last minute. “So May We Start” is not only asking the viewer to start the movie, it’s asking Hollywood if Sparks’ movie career can finally take off after all these years.
Annette is now playing in select theaters and on Amazon Prime.