ᴊᴏᴇ ᴍᴄᴋᴇᴏᴡɴ’s review published on Letterboxd:
No matter how hard I try, musicals are never going to be my bag.
Like every sweeping generalisation, there are exceptions to that rule, but on the whole, there's something about the staginess of musicals that never triggers the right emotional receptors in my brain when it comes to film.
Take Leos Carax' latest effort, Annette. It's never in doubt that this is the work of a master filmmaker. There is inventiveness throughout that you don't see in your everyday filmgoing experience and it hints at being the work of the same man that brought us Holy Motors - one of the best films of the past decade.
And yet, the artistry of his filmmaking is constructed around a Russell and Ron Mael musical. These two men are better known as the band Sparks and have enjoyed a cult following since the early 1970's. In many ways, you could draw up a few parallels between Sparks and Carax. They've often shown promise, sometimes genius, often eccentricities and occasionally seem to have faded completely into obscurity.
I'm not a big fan of Sparks. It's not that I haven't listened to albums like Kimono My House in the past - I have, but I just don't like them. I understand the influence on popular music genres like New Wave or Synthpop, but frankly they were always too cartoonish and colourful for my tastes.
They're a band to admire more than love, I find.
And that proves a problem for me right from the very start of Annette. The film opens with Leos, Russell and Ron all on the screen, as the frames flicker like the feedback from the guitars, and immediately I'm settling in for another weird and wonderful journey to match Holy Motors.
Then the song starts, and it's unquestionably Sparks - all chipper, smiley, creepy dance pop that actually works in the excellent opening passage, but will begin to wear me down quite quickly over the next 2hrs 20mins.
Every time the film quietens down, it comes alive for me. Adam Driver is just a sensation of an actor in everything I've watched him in and he's no different here. Watching his Henry McHenry go out on stage and deliver mind-bogglingly great absurdist stand-up comedy routines is just a joy when it's combined with the artistry of Carax' filmmaking.
But - and I appreciate this may well be just a personal issue - it's a musical. And it is increasingly dominated by music and song that I don't much care for. And what I can see on the screen is a director doing his damnedest to keep everything visually arresting whilst characters sing rather blandly at each other.
And I can't simplify it down to Carax = Good / Sparks = Bad, because at the end of the day, it is a Leos Carax film and it's his responsibility to make this work, and I just don't think he succeeds in crafting a musical out of these songs that can keep you interested throughout.
The most telling point is that the film truly comes alive every time they stop singing and Driver stands alone on a stage talking. Now that I could watch for 2hrs and 20mins.
I know if I turned on my wannabe-film-school head, I could delve deeper into this film and probably find more beyond the surface that I could explore at great length - it's definitely a movie that provokes that reaction - but unfortunately I can't get behind the irritation at the centre of it.
I was really hyped for this movie. I'll repeat, I think Holy Motors is one of the very best films of the last ten years, and yet Annette barely touches the brilliance on show at every turn in that film. And what's most disappointing is that you can still see the bones of the same filmmaker in there.
I just wish there was more of what it hints at and less of what it actually is.