Stars: Adam Driver, Marian Cottilard, Simon Helberg
Fashioned from Sparks brothers Ron and Russel Mael’s intended concept album, visionary French director Leos Carax’s crazed Cannes-opening musical, aims high, but is, alas, a leaden, glib and overlong misfire.
It begins promisingly enough with Carax and Ron and Russell marching out of their LA recording studio into the street midway into the film’s best and catchiest number ‘May We Start?’ where they are joined by a choir and the stars of the film, Driver, Cottilard and Helberg.
Once started, we meet Driver’s Henry McHenry, a nihilistic prankster stand-up, as he performs his show ‘God’s Ape’, pacing the stage in a bathrobe looking like an emerging boxer as he confesses his neuroses to a receptive audience. Henry is in a passionate affair with the adored opera singer Anna Desfranoux (Cottilard), but is resentful of Anna’s artistry garnering more critical respect than his. They have a child, Annette (‘played’ by an impressively elaborate wooden marionette), who possesses extraordinary abilities. The ups and downs of the odd couple’s tempestuous relationship are intermittently commented on via TV clip tidbits by a TMZ-style gossipy Greek chorus.
It’s a fantastical but flimsy take on ‘A Star is Born’, absent of any sense of wonder or insight. The always committed Driver busts a gut trying to breathe life into Henry, but is undone by thinly sketched characterisation that’s little more than a collection of bad boy ticks and poses. Carax distastefully tries to burnish McHenry’s enfant terrible image when he becomes the subject of ‘Me Too’-style accusations, although the script doesn’t follow them up.
Cottilard has even less to work with, her character just an ethereal wisp stuck on a predetermined character arc. With a couple of honourable exception, the songs are disappointingly underwhelming, more redolent of the avant garde repetition of Sparks’s noughties album ‘Lil’ Beethoven’ than the arch toe-tappers of their seventies heyday.
Carax being Carax does deliver some arresting images, most notably during one of Anna’s operatic performances where the stage is transformed into a lush forest, but they’re not enough to sustain interest over an inflated 140-minute running time.
Annette is released on 3rd September