Annette ★★

In what might be the most emblematic moment of Annette, the central relationship is characterized via a song that mostly consists of the line "we love each other so much" repeating over and over again. Like the entire film, the number falls into an awkward middle ground. It's clearly uninterested in functioning as a sincere, traditional narrative, and reading it as such would feel like a mistake. But on the other hand, there isn't nearly enough absurdity or exaggeration to the lyrically banal song for it to feel meaningful as parody – it just kind of is there, gesturing towards theme while being completely unengaging to listen to.

I imagine many viewers appreciate the film's ambitious big swings regardless of how many of them actually hit, but I think there's also a certain by-the-books laziness to how happy it is with just straight up not having an emotional core. The titular baby does feel like a suitable centerpiece, sure, but you'll have to wait until the (admittedly good!) final scene before she is granted any sense of agency or interiority.

In terms of structure, the film is built around Henry, who is unfortunately more of a narrative void than an actual character. Annette asks many questions about him (so why did the two fall in love? why exactly is he interested in being a comedian? what made his career falter?) and is interested in giving precisely zero answers; Henry is obviously not a sympathetic protagonist, but he is also not well-defined or grounded enough to feel like a proper villain. Driver is really giving his all, but mere technical competency can't rescue the performance, and his involvement ends up feeling like a celebrity casting stunt as being played by Adam Driver is the only remarkable thing about the completely hollow character.

Annette has more than one good idea, to be clear. The opening is good. The yacht sequence is stunningly visualized and blurs the line between the real and the unreal in a striking way, giving the movie its only truly successful instance of consequential melodrama. Baby Annette's world tour, which features some absolutely deranged shots, is pure fun. And while Simon Helberg's character suffers from the same vagueness that plagues all the others, his solo scenes at least feel like moments where the movie completely in control of its tone and finds the perfect level of stylization. But all of this, frankly, forms a fairly miniscule portion of the overlong runtime. A lot of it is just nondescript, mildly absurd slog to sit through as you wait for the good parts to happen.

Annette is at best an immensely frustrating waste of some of its more compelling elements, at worst not even interesting enough to feel annoying. Auditively best described as some kind of anti-musical and containing only one good character – a literal and metaphorical puppet – it is easier to appreciate intellectually than emotionally, which feels like such a weird move when you consider the subject matter and genre.

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